Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Juwan Howard has spent the past couple of months building up a long-distance relationship with commit Franz Wagner.
According to Howard, the two have conversed numerous times over FaceTime but have yet to meet in person.
That will change this weekend when Howard flies to Volos, Greece, to watch Wagner compete with Germany in the FIBA U18 European Championship, which begins Saturday.
“I'll be there the 28th and 29th to watch him in person,” Howard said Monday. “More importantly just to let him know that family is coming to support him because we're family. He's a part of my family."
Wagner visited Michigan in May after former coach John Beilein left for the NBA and before Howard was hired to replace him. Howard was able to land Wagner as his first recruit when he announced his commitment to Michigan's 2019 class on July 7.
Wagner and Germany will open play with three group stage games against Serbia on Saturday, Turkey on Sunday and Great Britain next Monday.
Even though Howard has never seen Wagner play up close, he knew he wanted him as soon as he watched the film and saw what Wagner was able to showcase with German club Alba Berlin.
“And talking to him, too. Wow, his eyes lit up. He was more excited to talk to me than I was,” Howard said. “I was like, 'Man, I wanted you.' This kid is skilled, he's big, has guard skills. He's played with professionals over in Europe. He has the experience, he's battle-tested, high IQ and he comes from a good stock with his brother (former Michigan standout Moritz). I could imagine what those gym one-on-ones were like.
“I’m looking forward to working with him."
Howard’s first opportunity to do so won’t come until after the 16-team European Championship wraps up in two weekends. The tournament's first-round games will take place on July 31 followed by the quarterfinals on Aug. 1, semifinals on Aug. 3 and finals on Aug. 4. Every team plays seven games.
“We're working on his visa and admissions is doing their part,” Howard said. “It's a process. It's my understanding his brother went through the same process. Got to make sure everything is lined up right. It's not easy."
Job up for grabs
Howard said the starting guard role that has been vacated by Jordan Poole will have no shortage of candidates.
“We can have some fun with that position,” Howard said. “There's competition out there, too. It's a spot that's open.”
Howard listed junior guard Eli Brooks, sophomore guards David DeJulius and Adrien Nunez and incoming freshmen Cole Bajema and Wagner among those who will have a shot to earn the starting backcourt job alongside senior point guard Zavier Simpson.
Brooks, DeJulius and Nunez all spent time playing at the two last year, though Nunez’s minutes only came in mop-up duty.
“I hope to see in practice who is going to win it,” Howard said. “That's how it will be determined.”
While Howard interviewed for several NBA head coaching jobs in the spring before signing a five-year deal with Michigan, he declined to say whether becoming an NBA head coach remains his ultimate goal.
“I'm not even thinking about the NBA. I'm taking this one day at a time,” he said. “My heart and my passion — I think I showed you how passionate I am about this school with the tears. I still get killed for that by the way. But I'm locked in here.”
… Howard said he has yet to divvy up responsibilities among his coaching staff and determine who is responsible for which position groups this season.
“We haven't gone over that yet,” Howard said. “We will.”
… Five-star guard Nimari Burnett listed Michigan among his final 12 schools, along with Louisville, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, Alabama, Marquette, Arkansas, Auburn, Arizona, Illinois and Wake Forest.
Burnett (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) is ranked the No. 23 overall recruit in the 2020 class, per the 247Sports Composite.