Juwan Howard’s coaching style will evolve depending on circumstances


Ann Arbor- Like just about everyone in and around Michigan’s basketball program, Isaiah Livers had questions.

Livers, who will be one of Wolverines’ main returning players as a junior in the fall, said the most pressing of them were answered during a brief team meeting Thursday morning with the new head coach Juwan Howard.

The former Fab Five star and longtime NBA player started with a joke, quickly put aside his prepared notes and spoke from the bottom of his heart about what he calls a “brotherhood.” He did it again when sporting director Warde Manuel greeted him on the podium for his introductory press conference upstairs at the Crisler Center, but only after he burst into tears, overwhelmed with the emotions of this return to the sources.

And all of this clearly marked the audience that matters most, the band left stranded by the abrupt departure of John Beilein 18 days earlier.

“Obviously you can see right from wrong,” Livers said, “and we can all see that Juwan is real.”

But now the real work begins for Howard, a first-time head coach who has been away from the college game – in addition to watching the Division I careers of his two eldest sons – for longer than Livers or one. of his teammates are alive. And what we heard on Thursday left everyone wondering, including Howard’s players.

“I’m curious, of course,” Livers said. “We are all curious. We want to know what’s going on. We didn’t have a coach for two weeks.

They have one now, and there’s at least a general idea of ​​who else will join Howard here, starting with a familiar face in assistant coach Saddi Washington, a key holdover from Beilein’s staff. Longtime strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson is also staying on, as are others in supporting roles, although Howard and Manuel have warned nothing is official yet. (Chris Hunter, Michigan’s director of basketball operations, was among those in attendance Thursday.) Expect more announcements soon on staff additions, including at least one former college head coach who will help Howard navigate the rapids ahead.

As for what this new era of Michigan basketball might look like on the court, that’s anyone’s guess. On Thursday, Howard revealed little or nothing about his vision, except for the usual coaching platitudes.

Team chat

Howard, a two-time NBA champion who has spent the past six years as an assistant for the Miami Heat, said fans can expect to see “a group that fights together, a group that is well-connected, a group that is inspired by their game, a group that appreciates each other’s success, a group that is above all a family.

But when asked by a reporter to describe his coaching philosophy, Howard smiled and turned to address his response to several of the current Michigan players sitting in the back.

“Well, that remains to be seen, guys, right?” he said. “But I can tell you this. One thing about me, I’m humble. And I don’t have all the answers. We will try to find solutions together. My staff and the players will be active participants in finding the solutions. We will create this identity together. And we will have fun doing it too.

In that sense, I guess the fun is just beginning here, as Howard dives into the NCAA handbook to get to grips with the do’s and don’ts – “As far as I know, there are a lot of rules there,” he joked. – before getting serious about recruiting.

Howard has a few open spots to fill on next season’s roster, either with current rookies (Jalen Wilson and Franz Wagner) or potential graduate transfers. Beyond that, there’s a huge class of 2020 that will go a long way in deciding Howard’s ultimate success as head coach in Ann Arbor.

He’s more than familiar with the AAU’s summer hoops circuit, as his two youngest sons, Jace and Jett, are both top prep prospects. But preparing for all the headaches that come with being a collegiate head coach “is going to be a challenge,” Howard readily admits. And to be fair, his willingness to acknowledge his shortcomings may prove to be the new coach’s greatest strength, isn’t it up there with his engaging, fatherly personality – one that stands in immediate contrast to his professorial predecessor.

Part of Howard’s challenge, however, will be articulating his vision for Michigan’s program and detailing his plan, which Beilein certainly had no trouble doing after decades of refining both. And soon, there will have to be real conversations about the Xs and O’s and what its players – current and future – can expect.

This may already be the case with rookies. It will have to be the case if he wants to bring Wilson back, for example. Ask anyone who knows the real Howard, as a player and coach in Miami, and they’ll tell you he’s more than ready to plan and grind. But for now, the rest of us are all waiting to see what that looks like.

As former Michigan star Terry Mills, now an analyst on UM radio shows, said Thursday, “Nobody knows exactly what kind of style he’s going to run.”

One could say that the uncertainty was a guarantee even if Beilein had stayed. Michigan lost its top three scorers to Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole, all of whom opted for the NBA as early entry candidates. This trio produced nearly 60% of Michigan’s offense last season. And as Mills notes, “Every time you lose three guys to the NBA, it’s going to look different no matter how you slice that cake.”

Nor is it a pious thought in heaven to suggest that the offense won’t be radically different — schematically, at least — from what Michigan fans have grown accustomed to seeing in recent years as the offense Beilein’s beloved two-guard was evolving into a system that relied heavily on pick-and-roll action.

“If you watch the Miami Heat play, they do a lot of the same things that Michigan players are used to,” said Tim McCormick, a former Michigan star who works as a TV analyst on NBA games. “Miami runs a quick hitter or a quick play and if that doesn’t work, they go straight on offense on ball screen. Well, that’s what John Beilein did. So Juwan Howard is going to train players next year who have a pretty good understanding of how this offense works.

Veteran Duo

It will start with his seniors, point guard Zavier Simpson and center Jon Teske, who proved to be one of the most effective pick-and-roll tandems in the country last season. But where the Wolverines turn after that is something Beilein himself was talking about as soon as Michigan’s playoffs came to a screeching halt against Texas Tech in the Sweet 16. Stuck in freely switching defenses all winter , Beilein lamented his team’s struggles with isolated basketball and trying to break down defenders 1-on-1.

This is surely something Howard will try to address in recruiting as he moves forward. But in the meantime, it will be worth watching how he and his still-developing team decide to tackle the problem.

Likewise, just as Beilein will have to adapt to faster play and a 24-second clock in the NBA, Howard will find that defense dictates much of what happens in college play these days.

Howard is best known as a defensive-minded coach, and his track record of working with big men certainly looks promising for Teske, Colin Castleton and Brandon Johns on the current roster. In fact, the 46-year-old Howard, who played more than 1,200 games during his NBA career, has already made it known that he will dive into the drills himself if needed.

But Howard – and Manuel – also know they will both be judged on how well he delivers on the promises we heard on Thursday. Easier said than done? No, it may be the opposite, in fact. Because right now, there’s a lot more to do than to say.

“Let it evolve,” Manuel said. “Let him become his own head coach. That’s what I’m going to do: support him, answer questions and let him evolve.

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