Juwan Howard on Michigan’s NIL progress, Europe trip, and preseason predictions

MINNEAPOLIS — Michigan head men’s basketball Juwan Howard, better known for his scoring and rebounding during his playing career, started off his Big Ten media day press conference on Wednesday with an assist.

After replacing Michigan women’s players at a particular dais inside Target Center, Howard noticed a purse on one of the seats.

Lailaaa,” he called out to sophomore guard Laila Phelia. She was shocked to see she’d left it and thrilled to have it back.

Howard, meanwhile, was skeptical about following an insightful, charismatic trio of players.

“I’m going as hell,” he said with a laugh.

Far from it. Howard gave his thoughts on a variety of topics on Wednesday. Here are some of the highlights:

European vacation

The Wolverines went to France and Greece in August, playing three (well, 2.5) exhibition games against professional competition in addition to sightseeing.

Howard previewed the trip but has not yet spoken publicly since until Wednesday.

“I thought it was a great trip for us,” he said. “It came at a perfect time. We have a team that pretty much only has one returning starter. (We’re) bringing in five new freshmen and two transfers that have never played with these guys before. This is a perfect time for us to get a chance to get away and get to learn and know each other, and grow together.”

Michigan lost its first game in Paris, won its next in Athens, and led at halftime of its final game, in Mykonos, Greece, before it was cut short due to the opponent being shorthanded.

The games were helpful, although perhaps not as much as the 10 extra practices that came with it. Howard said he learned more about his team over that time.

But what happened off the basketball court was just as important, Howard said. The NCAA allows programs to take such trips every four years.

“I wish we could do that every year,” Howard said. “I wish we could. It’s some of the best experience ever as a team, getting a chance to see the world and learn and grow.”

NIL update

The last time Howard spoke with the media, a couple of months ago, he was critical of Michigan’s approach to name, image, and likeness (NIL).

“Could we be more proactive with NIL and be more forward-thinking? Yes,” he said then. “And I say we — I’m including myself, our athletic department, and Michigan as a whole. We can do better.

Howard was asked on Wednesday if he’d seen improvements.

“Yes, I have seen some progress with the athletic department,” he said. “It’s still growing, but I love the direction where we’re going.”

Santa is coming to town

Michigan’s new president, Santa Ono, officially starts his term on Thursday. Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier this week he is excited for Ono’s arrival. So too is Howard.

Howard and Ono and communicated but have not yet met in person.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Howard said. “I’m also looking forward to Santa joining in and being our president. From what I’ve been told and from what I’ve seen since yesterday, he’s a true Michigan man and he also enjoys sports as well. He’s also competitive. He wants to win, he wants to see the championship banner in Crisler again, and he wants to be a part of that. He wants to see a championship in football and many other sports.”

Howard also praised Ono’s predecessor, Mary Sue Coleman, who filled in after Mark Schlissel was fired in January. Coleman was Michigan’s president from 2002 to 2014.

“Gotta give up the flowers to president Mary Sue Coleman for what she’s done twice, being our president,” Howard said. “I really admire and respect her and thank her for being one of the best leaders our university has witnessed.”

This year’s squad

Michigan returns potential preseason All-American center Hunter Dickinson, a junior, but lost the rest of the starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team.

Terrance Williams II, a junior forward, is back, as is sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin. Michigan added graduate transfers Jaelin Llewellyn, a point guard from Princeton, and wing Joey Baker from Duke, to go along with a freshman class ranked No. 11 in the country.

Howard said that the period in the spring when his roster was in flux — due to NBA departures and transfers — was “uncomfortable.” But he felt the end result was positive, especially given the addition of the two grad transfers,

“Those two were perfect two,” he said. “They have been seamless with their transition. Great guys, fun to coach, want to be coached, too — that’s the key.”

Howard likes what he’s seen so far from this group.

“Overall I feel our team is connected, not just on the court but for the part that matters most to me, off the court,” Howard said. “They enjoy hanging out together, they communicate well with each other.”

Michigan was picked to finish third in the Big Ten, behind first-place Indiana and Illinois, in a preseason media poll. Of course, the Wolverines were picked first last season and ended up eighth.

“Everyone has their predictions and opinions,” Howard said. “We’re just going to keep forging ahead and keep growing and keep trying to get better game by game and practice by practice. Hopefully we have some good health, because health plays a big role in your team’s success. I’m really looking forward to our chances.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.