Michigan big men elevate their games doing 'dirty' work with Juwan Howard
Ann Arbor — During Juwan Howard’s six seasons on the Heat's coaching staff, he was lauded for his work with Miami’s big men and earned a reputation as a player developer.
That specialization hasn't changed as Howard has returned to the college level and taken over at Michigan.
“When we split up into individual groups he's always working with us. Guards, wings, bigs, he's working directly with us bigs,” senior center Jon Teske said earlier this month. “That's huge. Obviously, he's played here, he's played at the highest level, so he knows what it takes.
“We can ask him questions and he's more than willing to answer them, and even in drills he'll demonstrate one. (One time) he went up and dunked one and we all went crazy. It's cool to see him go out and be himself.”
Needless to say, receiving instruction from a person with Howard’s expertise and resume — a former first-round pick who averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 rebounds over a 19-year NBA career — is an ideal situation for Michigan’s big men.
According to several Wolverines, Howard is much more hands-on and active in practices compared to former coach John Beilein. That’s evident when Howard spends time with redshirt junior center Austin Davis, sophomore center Colin Castleton, junior walk-on forward Jaron Faulds and Teske during the team’s breakdown sessions.
“I can't imagine there's a lot of schools around the country that have their head coach down in the post with a pad beating on the big guys when we're doing our post drills,” Davis said. “That's really just an incredible thing, and him being right there and him being able to correct anything that needs to (be corrected) has been tremendous."
For example, Castleton said Howard has already helped him improve the little things with his footwork, from setting solid ball screens to learning how to space the floor better.
Castleton added he has learned to be more vocal and communicate better. It’s an area he admittedly struggled with as a freshman and a talking point Howard has stressed, saying he wants the big men to have the loudest voice in the gym because they’re the “eyes of our defense.”
When it comes to post moves, Castleton noted Howard will reference past and present pro players whom he played or coached with during his 25 years in the NBA and implement what that player did well into the drill.
“He's the coach that's just getting down and dirty with us,” Castleton said. “He'll push us, bump us and stuff like that and teach us as we do it, so it's like hand-on-hand training with him. I don't think it's like any other coach could do because he's that position player and he's done it for so long.”
What Howard hasn’t done for long, however, is serve as a head coach at any level. In his first year at the helm of his alma mater, Howard has his sights set on utilizing every player’s strengths and implementing more of a positionless style of basketball.
That means Howard is giving Michigan’s big men a chance to possibly do more on the floor and be put in different positions. For example, Castleton said he has been allowed to push the ball up the court every once in a while if he’s “smart while I do it” as opposed to getting the ball to the point guard as quickly as possible.
Teske, meanwhile, could see an increase in post touches as Michigan will play “inside out and outside in.” While he has been effective and efficient in pick-and-roll situations with senior guard Zavier Simpson, Teske said the deep ball will remain a part of his repertoire after shooting 29.9 percent from 3-point range last season.
“With Coach B I was more on the perimeter and now with Coach Howard it's both sides,” Teske said. “I feel like I can go out there and play my game because I know I can play with my back to the basket or out on the perimeter, so I can really do both.”
Teske will get a chance to show it throughout the 2019-20 campaign, starting Friday when Michigan hosts Saginaw Valley State in an exhibition. But until then, Teske and the rest of his fellow bigs will continue soaking up everything Howard is preaching and teaching.
“I haven't made one complaint yet,” Castleton said. “Coach Howard is passionate about his job. He loves all of us and having that coach one-on-one with you who has been through all that — been in the NBA, all the stuff he's been through as far as his basketball knowledge — I take everything in. I have big ears when I listen to him.”