John Beilein’s decision to leave Michigan for the NBA came as a shock. In his twelve years, Michigan earned nine NCAA appearances, with five serious title runs–a welcome turnaround after a dolorous decade for men’s basketball.
His successor traded the NBA for the NCAA: Juwan Howard spent the last six years as an NBA assistant. Before that, of course, he was a member of Michigan’s Fab Five, the first player to leave school early for the pros and still graduate with his class, and the first to sign a $100 million contract.
That makes the roughly $1 million AD Warde Manuel offered him seem like a pittance. It’s low even by Big Ten standards, and about $2 million less than Beilein was making. But Howard has never been a head coach and has never coached in college.
Howard retained assistant Saddi Washington but brought in longtime St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli, NBA vet Howard Eisley, and Jay Smith, a U-M assistant from the Fab Days. And he made smart PR moves, attending Michigan football games and handing out free doughnuts to students on the Diag.
He lost one of Beilein’s 2019 recruits but was able to hold onto forward Cole Bajema and reel in forward Franz Wagner (Moe’s brother, currently out with a wrist injury). For 2020, he’s already inked the most coveted player in Ohio, Zeb Jackson, and has an oral commitment from five-star recruit Isaiah Todd.
He’ll need them: graduation and NBA defection left Michigan with only nine players and none of its top scorers. After Wagner’s injury most evaluators had Michigan finishing between fifth and ninth in the Big Ten.
Two non-conference victories weren’t exactly reassuring: The Wolverines blew a thirty-point lead before edging Appalachian State, and Creighton demolished Michigan on the defensive boards.
The Wolverines should improve as their untested players gain experience–but Howard’s first squad will do well to finish mid-pack in the Big Ten.