Ann Arbor — When Michigan coach Juwan Howard was one of the nation’s most prized high school basketball prospects in 1990, recruiting was a different — and simpler — game.
Up until Howard committed with the Wolverines, he was surrounded throughout his recruitment by a small camp that included two of his high school coaches from Chicago Vocational and his grandmother, Jannie Mae Howard.
“I don't think I was that hard. It was an easy process with me,” Howard said Monday at Crisler Center. “And if you have a home visit, then you have to win my grandmother over. That was it.”
Since taking over at his alma mater in late May, Howard has hit the ground running and is in the middle of a busy recruiting period — his first as the person making the calls instead of receiving them like he did nearly 30 years ago.
And, boy, how the times have changed.
“I take my hat off to these coaches, man. Wow,” Howard said. “Nowadays you have an AAU coach, you have high school coaches, you have parents, some kids have a spokesperson for them. It's a lot. I haven't been the type that's been on the phone talking in a long time. Like when I was in high school and all through college, cell phones were just starting to be introduced. … You might have your girlfriend (on the phone) talking like 30 minutes then all of a sudden it's 40 minutes and you're like, 'You hang up. No, no you hang up.'
“I think that was the last time I really spent a long time on the phone. Nowadays I'm on the phone and I look up at the phone it's like 30 minutes talking and selling our program, our vision and our culture."
Howard’s predecessor, John Beilein, had clear guidelines he followed when it came to recruiting. Beilein wouldn’t offer a recruit until he saw them play in person, until after the recruit’s sophomore year and until after the recruit had visited campus.
Howard said he doesn’t have a cut and dried philosophy yet, but he knows what he’s looking for on the recruiting trail.
“I just know when I recruit a kid, I'm recruiting his parents, too,” Howard said. “When I see the parents and I enjoy seeing how they develop and raise their kid, what their background is like and their philosophy, just talking to them you can feel. It's a feel thing where it's like, 'That kid is raised right.’
“If the parents are everything and check the boxes of what I look for and how I connect with the parent, and if the players check the boxes on their talent and how I foresee them representing this school as a student-athlete, then that kid deserves an offer. That's the kid I want to coach.”
Howard added he has found recruits’ parents to be “very helpful” because most of those he has talked to are aware of his background and career.
The same can’t be said of today’s high schoolers, who weren’t even born when Howard starred at Michigan from 1991-94. While some might have seen the “30-for-30” Fab Five documentary, Howard is unsure whether his name is helping him get a foot in the door with recruits and if they are even familiar with his resume — one that includes him playing in back-to-back Final Fours at Michigan and becoming the first player in NBA history to sign a $100 million contract.
While name recognition is one thing, lack of familiarity about the playing style and system Howard will implement as a first-time head coach is another. And it’s an area Howard implied opposing coaches are using against him in the early going.
“I have a lot of competition out there that's saying, 'Hey, this guy has never coached before,' or 'This is their style, so do you want to go there?' ” Howard said. “I'd rather bring them to campus, show them the film and maybe see a practice or a workout and then we'll go from there."
That’s the next step for Howard. Over the last month, he has handed out offers to some of the top players in the 2020 and 2021 classes. Eight top-50 recruits for 2020 hold a Michigan offer as well as four top-20 recruits for 2021.
The Wolverines are already among the finalists for two 2020 five-star recruits: guard Jaden Springer and center Walker Kessler. As other prospects continue to whittle down their lists, Howard hopes to start bringing them to Ann Arbor in the fall.
"Our goal is to get the kids that we feel we would love to coach here, that fit this program and our identity,” Howard said. “I don't know how many it's going to be. I can't predict how many from the class of 2020 will come and visit here, or we may see some class of 2021 visiting.”
While Michigan still has two available scholarships for 2019-20, Howard noted “it’s possible” he could fill one of those spots before adding, “a good class is coming in 2020.”
If no roster additions are made for next season, Howard would have at least three scholarships at his disposal for 2020-21 in addition to verbal commit and four-star guard Zeb Jackson.
The early signing period for the 2020 class begins on Nov. 13 — eight days after Michigan's regular-season opener — and ends on Nov. 20, though most recruits announce a commitment before then. After that, the late signing period starts on April 15.
"I'm trying to sign them now. I'm trying to get them to commit right now,” Howard said. “Hey, if I have to wait till April, I'll wait till April. Why not? Making a college decision for your future is not easy for a 17-year-old kid. I'm not the one to put pressure on a 17-year-old because I know I was once him. It takes time. It's a process.”
And certainly one that’s different than Howard is used to.