Michigan basketball: Juwan Howard's program is set to make noise in 2021-22
Don’t let their 51-49 Elite Eight loss to UCLA define their season — the Michigan Wolverines, top-seeded in the East Region, are most definitely going to be one of the programs to watch during the 2021-22 season.
The Big Ten regular-season champions are set to return freshman center Hunter Dickinson and sophomore guard Franz Wagner, two of the key pieces to Michigan basketball. Also, seniors can come back for another spin — if they so desire — due to the impact of COVID-19 on the season.
Guard Eli Brooks, a cornerstone of defense, can also play one more year.
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Basically, it was a free year of eligibility: So transfers Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown, who were instrumental during the postseason, have the option of playing one more year for Howard, who is set to welcome the No. 1-ranked recruiting class of 2021, per 247Sports.
Also worth mentioning: Howard was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year and the National Coach of the Year by the Associated Press. Sporting News and the USBWA also recognized Howard as the top coach in the college ranks.
The former Fab Five star had his team consistently in the top 5 for most of the season after most media pundits picked the Wolverines to finish 6th in the Big Ten. Michigan wasn’t supposed to be a Final Four contender, according to some, but it quickly became a team with more than local flair — the entire country began fixating on the Wolverines in February.
Entering the NCAA Tournament, Michigan was ranked No. 2 in the nation and held the No. 1 spot in the East Region.
The Wolverines are in superb hands with Howard, who is 42-17 in 2 seasons in Ann Arbor. He’s beaten rivals, set a new tone and has more than continued the excellence set by former coach John Beilein, who has showered Howard with public praise for two years.
Prior to their run, the Wolverines had designs on lasting until April 6 and being the last team left in the ring. They fell short again the Bruins.
“At the end of the day, we will learn from this,” Howard said afterward. “We will grow from it; and definitely, we all will get better — starting with me first.”
Not only did Howard acknowledge outside influences — he’s previously said there is a lot of Miami Heat in his team — Howard also publicly took immediate responsibility. Perhaps that he realized some of the late-game calls weren’t some of his best. Michigan missed its final 8 shots against the Bruins — shots that would have either tied or provided a lead.
Instead, a disappointing 51-49 loss was the result of Michigan’s somewhat-improbable postseason run, especially being without star senior guard Isaiah Livers, who returned to Michigan after briefly entertaining the 2020 NBA Draft.
Prior to the tournament, former Fab Five star Jalen Rose — who also had a pretty good NBA career — praised Howard during an interview on ESPN, the network by which he is employed.
“I’d rather have Juwan running the program more than anyone else,” Rose said. “That, to me, is like the biggest validation of what the Fab Five was able to establish at the University of Michigan.” Howard went on to compliment Beilein, who has several players “sprinkled throughout the NBA,” but he quickly shifted gears back to the way Howard has approached the acquisition of new talent.
“But what Juwan is doing is next level,” Rose said. “Because he has the player experience and he has the coaching experience. So now when he comes into your locker room, or when he comes into your living room, it sounds different to the players. It sounds different to the families.”
A willingness to break the mold and welcome more transfers. The willingness to quickly move forward and not hang onto the past accomplishments of the past regimes. A confidence and ability to create something special of his own.
Howard is what Michigan basketball needed after Beilein’s departure. This past season wasn’t just a fluke or stroke of luck; it was a direct signal of what’s to come in Ann Arbor: an era of dominant basketball.