Motifs throughout media day from both Howard and the team included trust, earning everything, hard work, and most importantly, family. A team that has been doubted even before Beilein’s departure, you can tell from their aura they’ve heard the noise. The players are working. They are getting better. They do not want to be counted out. Juwan Howard mentions, “I’ll be in the office at 10 at night and I’ll hear music blasting in the gym there’s always like one or two guys in there”. In addition to this, Coach Howard had a lot of great things to say about each player highlighting their talents and strong suits, even hinting that some may even see playing time. He referred to the team as sponges. This team wants to learn, and as a fan, it is exciting to know that a new coach won’t hinder their goals.
Juwan Howard on the loss of major playmakers and shot takers, Matthews, Poole, and Brazdeikis: “Everyone stepping up. Collectively as a group. All hands on deck”, a mentality the players shared as well. Every member of the team, both players and staff, know they have shoes to fill and their goal is to show people they can. Livers, a junior out of Kalamazoo, when asked about the speculation of having a breakout season after a transformative off-season said, “If I have to be the guy to have a breakout season or whatever it is then I’ll do that because I know it’s good for my team”. Similar sentiments were shared with other players including sophomore, David DeJulius, who foresees a breakout season as well. Working out over the spring and summer alongside his confidence in the coaching staff has enabled him to focus on playmaking for his teammates and putting up more shots. During the open practice, it seemed that was all he wanted to do. During warmups, his jumpers looking better than ever, and I can attest to him being “a straight bucket” this season. The energy throughout the practice, from not only DeJulius but their leader, Zavier Simpson, also known as X, who pushes every single player on this team to work towards the end goal: to win. He holds not only himself accountable but others which forces his younger teammates to strive to earn their minutes and prove themselves. There are no excuses for this team, that’s how much they want to win. All the changes made to this team will not hold them back. Adapt and attack, that’s the motto.
With an ‘egoless’ coaching staff and boys who want to win it all, something necessary and often forgotten is trust. Juwan Howard does not expect the trust of the players off the bat but in fact, wants to earn it. His late nights in the office and his basketball centered mind that keeps him up shows he is dedicated to the cause.
He sends appreciation to the fans, reminding them of their role in making Michigan the school it is today. As he does this, he also emphasizes the family aspect of this team. They aren’t just here to develop as players but as young men who can give back to their families and community. And this is not all talk. His first time meeting Franz Wagner, German freshman and Michigan Alum Moe Wagner’s brother, was across the Atlantic Ocean in Greece. Coach Howard recalls Franz repeatedly saying he didn’t have to travel so far, however, Howard responded with “That’s what family does for each other”. Building such relationships with players bodes well for the team because it helps them feel comfortable on and off the court. Franz, who has access to several resources to help him adjust to a new environment, has gotten much support from all of his teammates and roommate, Cole Bajema. An important fact stressed during most interviews was that he plays defense, unlike his brother, and is definitely ahead of his time. A great shooter and ball-handler despite his 6’8 stature give Howard and teammates even more confidence in Michigan Basketball this upcoming season.
Overall, Media Day reassures fans and lovers of Michigan Basketball that there is no need to worry about the transition or what is to come during the Howard era. This 2019-2020 unit is built on a foundation of trust, hard work and family. The players are playing faster than they ever have, taking more shots, and honing their craft thanks to the basketball masterminds on the coaching staff with over 60 years of experience combined. Each member is eager and willing to learn which should amplify excitement for this upcoming season. Therefore, it is safe to say that there will be a lot of shocks this year.