What Juwan Howard said at Michigan basketball media day

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s a gloomy Friday in Ann Arbor, with overcast skies and slightly crisp air, changing leaves, and an intermittent drizzle — signifying basketball season is right around the corner. The even bigger signifier? Michigan basketball held media day at Crisler Center on Friday afternoon.

Head coach Juwan Howard, entering his third year at the helm of the team, met with the media for a good 30 minutes to discuss the state of the team, what he’s seen from the true freshmen, why he brought in transfer point guard DeVante’ Jones, Hunter Dickinson’s return and progress, why Eli Brooks is like another coach on the floor, and much, much more.

Here’s everything he had to say.

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Ranking top 10 Michigan football players by PFF grade through six games

Opening statement

“Hello, everyone! It’s good to see everyone back! It was what? Two years ago? Yeah, two years ago that we all sat here in this type of form, so it’s an exciting day for all of us. Good to see that, thank God, many of you are healthy. That’s the most important thing, right? I know you guys have a lot of questions regarding the team, so, feel free!”

What has he seen in the early going from the team?

“Well, what I see from the team — A. they’re very young. We have six freshmen, and we also have four returning sophomores. And then we also have one grad transfer and I’m speaking of DeVante’ Jones. With his experience and the inexperience — along with Eli Brooks and Brandon Johns, Adrien Nunez — we have a young team that’s excited about learning. They are — they’re excited about learning and growing together. I will say this about the staff, I’ll say this: we enjoy coming in every day in that gym working with them. It’s been great getting to know one another. It’s also been awesome to learn from them. I see this being a fun season in many ways — a season of growth.”

What did he see in DeVante' Jones that made him want to pursue him?

“He’s a competitor. A very tough competitor that knows how to play the game the right, winning way. Skillful in a lot of ways, make plays for others. Also capable of creating his own shot, great finisher at the basket. But also a guy that has a high character, and that’s also important when you talk about, when you bring in a guy that’s been four years at a different college. But you can see he’s been coached, and you also can see that he’s been raised right by his parents because being the high character individual that he is, we all enjoy being around him, enjoy welcoming him to our family.”

How do the staff evaluate character?

“Well, with the evaluation period, it’s important that you get to know recruits and who you are — fits your culture. Getting to know them doesn’t just take one phone call. Spending time, watching them play out there, whether it’s in high school or AAU. Getting to understand and know their parents, their background, and also what makes them tick in a lot of ways. What we’re fortunate enough to gain during that process is we’re really good at identifying what fits our culture.”

What are the traits he looks for in a recruit?

“The most obvious is can you play? Not only can you play but your passion and love for growth. Are you a growth mindset individual or are you I, I, I, me, me, me with a fixed mindset? So far, we haven’t found that yet. Not saying we’re always gonna get it right, but we also are not gonna steer away those who have that type of mindset where they feel like they don’t want to get better. We haven’t seen it and what we have is interesting.

“In that locker room, we have guys that are built the right way and the right way is the winning way. It doesn’t mean it’s always going to result to winning, I feel the winning part of it is seeing the development of each and every individual. That’s what we win at. Also seeing the passion that is being poured within the team. Every guy on our team really enjoys playing for one another and they also enjoy being coached. So, I’m living the dream, because I’m with an amazing group!”

What are other things recruits can do to catch his eye?

“It’s not just basketball. Let’s just keep the main thing the main thing. The Michigan education — you have to qualify on that level, too. When you look at the transcripts, you have to see what that fits the makeup of here at this school and what will allow you to be accepted here. Because administration with admissions does not play! And I understand, because I was once a student here myself. I had to apply myself in the classroom to be able to qualify to accept a scholarship here at the University of Michigan. So, that’s a big quality. Not only just being able to play the game of basketball, they both go hand-in-hand.”

How has Hunter Dickinson improved the most?

“Well, Hunter has improved in all areas of his game. If you look at, he came in this summer in great shape. He really, really invented his body. Pouring in the time, whether it’s in the weight room, the track, the pool — doing a lot of different things. Diet, too — getting himself to where he wants to be. Seeing a lot of growth in how he’s approached every practice. We also get into a lot of individuals, him and I. We did it a lot last season, he of course wanted to do it again this year — which, I was welcome to. I never want to be chasing after Hunter to work harder, and I never have. He has that mindset of he wants to get better and he knows it. He also knows and understands where he needs to improve on. I know there’s been a lot of talks about his outside shooting, and I want to say this today: Hunter’s always been able to shoot the basketball. He’s displayed that in high school, he’s displayed that in AAU before he arrived here on campus.

“What’s amazing about Hunter is this: he’s shown he’s a guy that’s all in for the team and all about sacrificing. So, what do I mean by that? Last season, we had four guys in the starting lineup that averaged 35-percent or better from 3-point land. Having five guys on the perimeter just clogs up everything and just kills your spacing. What he did was special for the group was he showed a different side of his game that many people didn’t get a chance to see throughout high school — back to the basket. And he dominated in that area. This year, there’s been a lot of makeup of can he shoot it from the outside? Of course he can! He’s worked on it and I just want him to know this: we will continue to grind, we will continue to get better. But know this: what you had done for the team last season is amazing and it’s much appreciated. But we’re also going to need you more this year to step up and be more of a leader than you were last season.”

What does it mean for the team that Hunter and Eli Brooks came back?

“Let’s say this: I still have some dark hair left! Dark hair color, I’m speaking of. Because without those two, I’m sure I’d have a lot more grey hair. And that’s because what it does is it just brings more balance and stability to the team when you have two experienced guys, both returning starters, both been battle-tested playing in the Big Ten. Eli is, as we all know about his experience for four years, now going on his fifth year. When I heard that he wanted to come back, I opened — my arms was big, wide, open and I’m smiling, excited about he wanted to take another year. And as we all know, that was that extra year because of COVID. When Hunter went through the process of the NBA, which he did the right thing that was best for his future, he got a lot of feedback that (gave him a) feel for where he’s at and where he needs to grow. That was good that he went through that process, I supported him. And when he decided he wanted to return, he felt that that was best for his future, that he wanted to come back for another year. And it’s the same — the team, the staff welcomed him back. But, at the same time, he was never gone.”

Is there anything uniquely tough about the Big Ten this year?

“Well, I can’t really answer about what is uniquely tougher this year from last year because obviously, we haven’t started the season yet. I haven’t gone down and looked at every roster of each team, nor do I know all of the kids that are out here. I just know that from top to bottom, our league is one of the toughest, most competitive leagues that I’ve experienced as a coach for two years. And also the years prior, just being a fan of Michigan basketball as well as the Big Ten, looking at each coach, each program, starting with the coaching staffs that are in each program, they are some of the best coaches from top to bottom. And they make me have to go out there and get better as a coach each and every year. I ask my players to get in the gym and prove their game, I challenge myself as well. I know that each coach tried to improve their roster, just like we do, on making sure that not just the Big Ten season, but throughout the season, what gives you the best chance of winning.”

Does the success go to the players' heads at all?

“Well, we haven’t played a game yet, so everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I just look at it one game at a time. Never have I looked at rankings or predictions. Last year, now that you bring this subject up, and it’s really true, I don’t know where we were ranked at last year, but I know it wasn’t No. 1! That goes to show you that it doesn’t matter where you are before the season starts. You have to play a game and then you measure where your team is and where you can improve and where there’s areas of if you’re good or not good. But what I can say this: we’re gonna compete, for sure. We are going to compete.”

What does Eli Brooks do that makes him a coach on the floor?

“Well, he listens very well. And he’s also locked into every detail of teaching. When you have that type of mindset and level of focus, you’re able to carry on and apply what’s being taught. Last, but not least, he loves basketball. When you have all of that combined into a player, you get something special. And he is a very special individual. He is our captain and we’re gonna lean on him for his leadership and it’s great when it doesn’t always have to be coach-driven. When you get it from one of your leaders, best players, where he’s the guy who, every time he shows up (and) punches the clock in practice, he’s bringing it every time and his teammates see that and they also see that when there’s a coaching moment for Eli, the head coach is not afraid to speak up and coach him. We just have a domino effect when it falls in line and it’s beautiful to see.”

Has he named other captains?

“Not yet. No, sir. You have to earn it with me. I’m old school!”

He picks captains?

“Yeah, yeah. I do! Yes, I do. And typically, some teams and some teams that I’ve been on where the players will vote on who’s the captains — I like to identify who I feel is best to be our best leaders. Because sometimes, when the players pick it, it can be like a popularity contest. And no offense, I’m not saying our guys are wired that way, I just feel safely where a guy needs to earn it. I’m old school in that way.”

How many times was he a captain in the NBA?

“Me? That’s a good question! I’m not counting, but now that you ask: Washington. . . that’s about it!”

What's the difference in Brandon Johns?

“What I see — same like Hunter. Brandon came in in great shape this summer, working extremely hard. He sees where he, like a lot of our guys, had to sacrifice. Brandon played behind a pro! He played behind a pro and that’s Isaiah Livers. And so he got a chance to compete against a pro every day in practice. He sat there and waited his turn, but whenever his name was called on, he delivered. There were times where you could see where there’s areas of a lot of growth that’s needed. But we all have areas of our game, whether it’s coaching or playing where we must improve. But I could say consistently in practice, he’s been as rock-solid as they come. That Brandon that played in the Big Ten Tournament as well as the NCAA Tournament when Isaiah Livers went down, yes, we’re gonna need that Brandon this season.”

Why didn't Hunter Dickinson get a first-round grade?

“Honestly, I’m not a part of that world anymore. I’m more locked into what this block M is all about and what’s on the roster. I don’t get caught up into what the NBA, what the scouts, critics, how they evaluate players, my players. What I get locked in and focused on is how I can get my guys better. But it’s great that Hunter went through that process and now he gets to see all of the information that he was concerned with. He got it, he got all the information. Now, let’s see what happens this season.”

Will Chris Webber come back for a game this year?

“I don’t know. I don’t know what Chris is gonna do. But congratulations to his hall of fame (induction) and I was there to support him.”

How has he grown as a coach?

“Well, I would just say this: in the first year, that was a lot coming in at me at once. Now things have started to slow down a little bit.”

What has he seen from the other sophomores?

“Yes, I have. I’ve seen a lot of growth from all our guys. They’re so locked in, man. They see a lot of opportunity. But they know they have to earn it. What I’ve been witnessing from the summer and where we are now, I’m happy with it. I hope they are. But we will continue to keep working. We’re going to need each and every guy on that roster, all of them. And that includes the returning sophomores.

“But it was nice to see last season that they had the opportunity to play some and have their experience and see what it’s like. Now, this upcoming season, we’re gonna have some fans in this building. As of today — that’s what I was told. I don’t know what the future holds. But I would say this: it’s gonna be a different environment when you go on the road to the Big Ten and play in the Breslin Center and they go with their white-out and their fans are shouting all kinds of different — whatever they say! I don’t want to get into that! It’s gonna be fun! It’s gonna be how we respond.”

Similarities and differences between Eli Brooks and Kobe Bufkin

“I see both players similar in the way that they both love basketball and they work extremely hard to get better. They both are coachable. But they’re very different in a lot of ways. Eli, what’s so special about him is he doesn’t just mentor one individual, he mentors all. And that’s the beauty of having a senior like Eli who’s returning who’s open to teaching and helping our players. Whether it’s what’s happening in practice, whether it’s something that — film session. Or just overall what we represent here at Michigan.”

How many practices have they had so far?

“I’m not counting. I’m so locked in — you can’t see, I’m so juiced up right now! I’m not counting.”

Impressions of the freshmen

“They’ve been awesome! Great group to work with. They all have special talents and all the players are inexperienced in a lot of ways and come from different habits and teaching from other coaches that now they picked the coach that’s very detailed in everything and every approach in how we practice, our identity on the offensive end and the defensive end in what’s being asked for them moving forward.

“Just to give it up in a quick nutshell: Moussa — one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. Kobe — another hard worker. And this is going to sound very plain Jane, but it’s real! Frankie — another hard worker. Will — I mean, c’mon, do I have to say more? One of the hardest workers. I don’t know who beats who to the gym or who works the hardest. Will, Caleb, Moussa, Frankie, Isaiah, as well as Kobe. Got a hard-working group, man! They stay consistent with it, too, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s not coach-driven. That’s how they’re wired. They want it and it’s beautiful to see as a coach where, not only do they work hard, but they’re coachable. When they ask questions, they’re not afraid to make a mistake. When they make a mistake, we coach it and try hardest not to make the same mistake.”

Will we see a five freshman lineup?

“I don’t know. It’s too early to tell at this moment.”

It would be a little poetic

“Fab Five, wow!”

Does officiating limit defensive play?

“You know, I haven’t dug deep and tried to figure it out as far as how the game has evolved with some of the rule changes. I just know that where I come from in the NBA, there was always something new with the committee, rules committee I’m speaking of. I expect the same from college. I know they would love to see — I wouldn’t say I would know, let me correct myself — I think they would like to see scoring up higher. Freedom of movement, less contact, less holding — things of that nature. But you know what? As a coach, we have to coach it different. You have to make adjustments, and that’s what we get paid to do.”

What traits does he look for, talent, skill. . .?

“It’s possible! It’s like a correlation here. Everyone’s a hard worker.”

Does it start with the intangible skills, outside of the physical?

“It starts with character. It starts with that. I would say No. 2, it starts with who wants to enjoy being a college student. That matters! Especially in this day and age.”

Who's most ready to provide more offense this year?

“I can’t say. I can’t say. I’m sorry. That would just be disrespectful to the other men if I come up here and just say one person and not name all. I would say they’re all growing in that area.”

How confident is he that the outside shooting will be there?

“We will continue to work on it and we will always work on it throughout the season. That’s in practice, shootaround. It’s needed, not just in our league, but in college basketball.”

Does he want the team to have championship aspirations?

“Yes, absolutely. And that’s a goal every year to always achieve to win championships. Whether that’s Big Ten regular season, Big Ten Conference, as well as the NCAA Tournament. Our goal is always aligned that way.”

Are there differences on how he approaches the early season with a lot of freshmen?

“I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s OK to say if you don’t know something that you don’t know. I don’t know everything.”

What has he seen from Zeb Jackson from last year to this year?

“Zeb is working hard in practice like everyone else. He’s always had that type of mindset when he was not in the rotation last year. He’s stayed consistent and being consistent coming every morning and getting work in. And how I know that is because I’ve heard the music from how my office is aligned with the practice court. And I got a chance to know by the music who’s in the gym working out. I know their playlist by heart.”

What does he listen to?

“Man, I can’t tell you that! That’s not fair to the other artists!”

How much do the last two years fuel him to go further and win a championship?

“I’m a competitor and I’ve always been that way. That’s my makeup and that’s where I’ve been from when I set foot on this campus — always built on winning. And that will never stop. The goal is to get one.”

What is the biggest thing he doesn't know about his team?

“We’re still growing and we’ll continue to grow each and every practice. And thankfully so, we’re having some really good practices.”

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