Michigan will be 'different in a good way' under Juwan Howard, players say

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan's Isaiah Livers goes to the basket on Tuesday during the Moneyball Pro-Am at Aim High Sports in Dimondale, Mich.

Dimondale, Mich. — When Michigan sophomore guard Adrien Nunez tuned into NBA TV on Monday night, a familiar sight popped up on his screen.

There was former coach John Beilein standing on the sideline, shouting out a play call to his Cavaliers team during the opening night of the NBA Summer League.

“I'm watching him run our stuff and it's crazy like, ‘What the heck?’” Nunez said Tuesday before playing in the Moneyball Pro-Am at Aim High Sports. “It looks great in the NBA though. It's super spaced out and the ball movement (is great).”

But with Beilein and his system now in Cleveland, it’s still a mystery what Michigan’s style of play will look like under new coach Juwan Howard.

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That will start to change Wednesday when Howard, the former Fab Five member who was hired in late May, holds his first official practice and the Wolverines begin their summer session at Crisler Center.

“It’s totally open,” Nunez said. “We're totally ready for the new spark in the program.”

According to Nunez, Howard has been “super open” with all the players since he replaced Beilein and noted the transition to this point has been “pretty smooth.”

Nunez added while he has talked often with Howard, the focus of those conversations has been about getting to know one another as Howard has put an emphasis on building up a rapport and brotherhood among the Wolverines.

“That was the first thing that came out of his mouth in the first meeting in the locker room, about how important that (brotherhood) was,” Nunez said. “Everybody who has endorsed him, LeBron (James), (Dwyane) Wade, Duncan Robinson, they all talked about how good he is at that.

“He was a player at Michigan. He was just in the NBA coaching (with Miami). He was in the NBA. He definitely has trust right off the bat.”

Junior forward Isaiah Livers said while he has connected with Howard over the phone a couple times, the team has stayed in constant contact via a group chat before and after the coaching change.

And now that everything — and everyone — is finally in place, the players are excited to finally take the court together and see what’s next when the offseason work begins.

“It's kind of different,” Livers said. “Me and (Zavier Simpson) were talking about it the other day, how different Crisler seems right now. But it's different in a good way."

Michigan's Adrien Nunez puts up a shot during the Moneyball Pro-Am on Tuesday at Aim High Sports in Dimondale, Mich.

Yet, it’s still anybody’s guess what Michigan’s schemes will look like on the offensive and defensive ends, and how Howard's coaching philosophy will differ from Beilein's. 

Livers and Nunez said they haven’t received any hints about what to expect and they haven’t delved into basketball-related specifics with Howard.

“He’s trying to just have us work on our skills and not worry about that kind of stuff,” Livers said. “He's a really laid-back guy and we respect everything he's done so far. We'll learn (Wednesday)."

Helping implement Howard’s vision will be a familiar face in assistant coach Saddi Washington as well as new ones in assistants Phil Martelli, the former longtime St. Joseph's head coach, and Howard Eisely, a former Knicks assistant and Detroit native.

The mere mention of Martelli's and Eisley's names brought a grin to Livers’ face.

“I love those guys,” Livers said. “They're just terrific. Our last staff did a terrific job the last two years they were here. Martelli sounds like he's a serious guy and he has a lot of experience under his belt. Eisley just seems like he's really comfortable with the offensive side of the basketball. I'm super interested to pick his mind.”

And what Howard has in mind? That curtain will start to be pulled back on Wednesday.

“It's going to be difficult and fun at the same time. That's the best way I can put it,” Livers said. “You're going to have let go of some of the stuff Coach B taught you and you're going to have to relearn some more stuff maybe in a different way. But whatever he asks, everybody on the team is loyal enough to do what he says.”


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins