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Juwan Howard talks Jace’s offseason improvements, the ‘need’ for a player like Jett

Basketball is very much a family sport at Michigan.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

During last week’s media availability, Michigan men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard spoke about a plethora of offseason happenings — the highlights of the conversation you can see here. But he also took some time to praise both his sons, Jace and Jett.

When speaking about players who have made significant offseason improvements, he mentioned his older son, Jace, has added more to his offensive game.

“Look at Jace (Howard), Jace is Jace, as steady as they come,” Howard said. “I’m seeing his mid-range shot becoming a little more consistent, instead of just being a guy who’s shooting spot-up threes, a guy that can be comfortable with the ball in his hands and make good decisions with the ball.”

Jace didn’t play much for the Michigan Wolverines last year, appearing in only 14 games and averaging under five minutes per game. He mostly came in as a defensive stalwart who could hit the occasional three, so it should be interesting to see how those offseason improvements translate in the 2022-23 season.

Looking at Michigan’s projected playing rotation, I’d imagine Jace will be a big part of the second unit. He’s one of the team’s best on-ball defenders and if his offensive game really has improved, he’ll undoubtedly earn more playing time.

Along with all that, I’ve always loved that Jace was one of the most excited guys on the bench last season, encouraging his teammates and being the first one to dap guys up after a big run. Perhaps that can translate into a leadership role at some point during his career.

During the media availability, coach Howard kept reiterating there are certain players the team is going to “need” this season, and his younger son, Jett, was included in that group. He also emphasized the unique position that his son is in.

“He’s coming along very well,” Howard said. “With freshmen, there’s so much that’s thrown at you, so fast, different terminology, speed of the game, the strength. This is something that few have to deal with: the vast majority of college basketball players have never experienced playing for your father. That is not easy at all. Not making an excuse for him, but he has embraced it.”

Expectations for Jett seem to be much higher than for Jace, as Jett’s name showed up on a few way-too-early 2023 NBA mock drafts.

Jett flashed his potential as a star scorer in various spring and summer showcases, but the transition going from a freshman to go-to scorer doesn’t happen overnight. It takes effort to be a top contributor in college basketball, and it sounds like he is already putting the work in.

“Yesterday, I’m leaving, and I was the last one to leave, and we didn’t have practice. So the guys had a nice little yoga session,” Howard said. “And then I heard a ball bouncing. I peak in and open the door, cause I can’t watch him work out, and Jett is in there getting shots up.”

“He’s a young man that, with his skillset, what he has is what we need. He can shoot it, (he’s) a big wing playmaker, he’s now grown, he’s almost up to 6’8, he can stretch the floor, the key with him is at times, he loves to make the play, he wanted to make the play for someone else. So (we have to) try to teach him to be more aggressive offensively. He wants to make the right play, Hunter’s going to love him.”

Not many college coaches get the chance to coach two of their sons in the same season, and when I asked about that, Howard said one of his sons reached out to college basketball players in similar situations.

“I’m sure (Jett) is going to lean on Jace a lot, but I will say this: I would love to give a shoutout to the McCafferys,” Howard said, referring to Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery and his sons Connor and Patrick, who both played with the Hawkeyes last season. “They have been great with helping my boys with their transition in playing for their father. I didn’t put them in contact with one another, Jace was the one who first made contact with them. I thought that was so mature of him; it’s good those brothers have really helped our boys.”

Howard mentioned he’s also talked to Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli and Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, who have both coached their sons in the past.

The recruiting process gets a little complicated when a school like Tennessee comes to visit and the father of a recruit is also trying to pursue the recruit. Howard said when Tennessee was coming after Jett, he had to “go out recruiting and rev it up a little bit” because he feels this year’s squad truly needs a scorer like Jett.

“It’s one of these uncomfortable moments, I guess for both sides,” Howard said. “What I really admire from Rick Barnes and his staff is they got uncomfortable. I was going to allow Jett make the best decision for him, while at the same time knowing in my heart I want to coach him. If he decided to choose another school, I was still going to love him, be his dad, buy a t-shirt for every school that he played for and wear it proud. And then if we ever would have played him, we were just going to kick his ass.”