Michigan Wolverines Basketball: Juwan Howard Talks Recruiting Strategy
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Michigan Wolverines Basketball: Juwan Howard Talks Recruiting Strategy

Michigan Wolverines basketball's second full recruiting class is ranked among the top five in the country, and it might get even better. Head coach Juwan Howard and his staff followed up last year's No. 1 haul with a second impressive quartet by using the same formula he has since he arrived on campus.

Howard remembered how hard he had to work in the classroom while at Chicago Vocational to make sure his grades were good enough for Michigan. He's often said 'we're not for everybody' when talking about recruiting, but he's proving they're for many of the nation's top recruits.

One thing won't change, he insisted — they're going for character in addition to talent.

"With the evaluation period, it's important you get to know [how] recruits you feel fit your culture, and getting to know them doesn't take one phone call," Howard said during Friday's Michigan basketball Media Day. "Spending time watching them play, high school and AAU , getting to know the parents, the background, what makes them tick in a lot of ways ... we're really good at identifying what fits our culture.

"The most obvious [trait] is, 'can you play?' Not only can you play, but your passion and love for growth. Are you a growth mindset individual or 'I, I, I, me, me, me?' So far, we haven't found that yet ... we haven't seen it. What we have, it's interesting in that locker room. You have guys that are built the right way ... the right way is the winning way."

It doesn't mean it's always going to result in winning, he said, but it's a great start. The winning part, per Howard, is in development and the passing that's being passes between players within the team.

"Every guy on our team enjoys playing with one another," Howard said. "I'm living the dream ... we have a great group."

That includes six freshmen who comprise the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. The list:

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At least three — Diabate, Houstan and Bufkin — will almost assuredly play, while the others have also had impressive moments.

"The freshmen have been awesome. It's a great group to work with," Howard said. "All have special talents, but all are inexperienced in a lot of ways, coming in with lot of different habits ... now they have a coach who is very detailed in identity on the offensive and defensive end.

"Moussa — he's one of the hardest workers I've every been around. Kobe, another hard worker. Frankie, another hard worker. Will ... come on, do I have to say more. He's one of the hardest workers. I don't know who beats who and works the hardest?

They're consistent with it, he added, calling it 'the beauty of it.' It's not coach driven ... they want it, just like the rest of their teammates. Sophomore Zeb Jackson, for example, is one of the gym rats, and Howard can tell by the music he's hearing in the gym while he's in his office who's there.

It's usually someone different every day.

"Not only do they work hard, but they're coachable, ask questions, are not afraid to make a mistake," Howard said. "When we do, we coach it, and they try their hardest not to make the same mistake."

They're putting the pieces together and building what appears to be a contender for the foreseeable future. The strategy has been impeccable, Rivals.com's Jamie Shaw said.

"“It’s high-level stuff,” he praised. “He’s going to consistently have top 10 to 15 classes with a couple top fives mixed in there. That’s how you play winning basketball.

“He’s done a great job of getting guys that kind of fit together. It looks like he’s really focusing on mental toughness at the guard position with [pledges] Dug McDaniel and Christian coming in, a lot of lengthy, playmaking wings. It’s good groups of guys that fit together.”

It starts with character in recruiting, Howard said, and finding guys who wants to enjoy the experience of being a college student.

"That matters, especially in this day and age," he said.

And it's not just basketball, he added.

"Keep the main thing the main thing — the Michigan education," he said. "You have to qualify there, too. Look at the transcripts, see if it fits the school, allows you to be accepted here. The administration here does not play with admissions ...

"So, it's not just being able to play basketball ... they go hand in hand."

So far, he's struck just the right balance, with the National Championship the ultimate goal and one he won't apologize for.

"We absolutely have championship aspirations. That's the goal every year, to always achieve," he said. "Big Ten regular season, conference as well as NCAA Tournament. Our goals are always aligned that way."


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