John Niyo, Matt Charboneau and James Hawkins preview the Michigan and Michigan State basketball seasons, which get underway on Tuesday. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan suffered its first loss two weeks before the season even began when freshman wing Franz Wagner fractured his right shooting wrist.
With Wagner sidelined until at least mid-November, Michigan coach Juwan Howard isn’t going to rely on one Wolverine to fill the large role the German product is expected to play.
“Franz is a guy we're going to truly miss,” Howard said Thursday. “Before his injury, he was having a really good summer and preseason. His preseason was pretty strong up until that point where he injured his hand. There's going to be many guys that's going to have to step up. I like to call it by committee.
“All hands on deck.”
That committee includes perimeter and post players alike, and Howard specifically mentioned sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. and sophomore center Colin Castleton by name.
Johns, who will play at the four this season, has been limited with an ankle sprain but is expected to be good to go when the regular season starts next week. According to Howard, Castleton could see some time at the four during Wagner’s absence.
Howard said Castleton can score from the outside and inside on the block and has “so much talent that’s still untapped.” Castleton has worked on his footwork, speed, ball-handling and 3-point shooting but noted the biggest adjustment between the four and five will be on the defensive end.
“There's a lot of guys in the Big Ten and college basketball at the four who can handle the ball very well and move their feet pretty fast,” Castleton said. “I think staying with them and being able to guard them one-on-one is a big jump.”
Wagner’s injury will also lead to increased opportunities for junior guard Eli Brooks, sophomore wing Adrien Nunez and sophomore guard David DeJulius, and opens the door for freshman guard Cole Bajema to possibly crack the rotation.
Howard said Nunez is “truly going to play” and still has room to grow as a defender, from understanding how to be in great help position to getting down the team’s defensive principles. The same goes for Bajema, who is adjusting to the college speed and defending at a higher level.
“Everybody has got to step up in some way or another,” said Bajema, who added roommate Wagner has been “super positive” since fracturing his wrist. “I just need to prove myself in practice and prove that I can play out there.”
Of the bunch who will look to pick up the slack, DeJulius has stood out the most. According to Howard, DeJulius has made the biggest strides since he took over and the team is “going to need his scoring and level of toughness.”
DeJulius said he spent the offseason working to get back to himself, which he self-described as an aggressive player who can shoot the ball and get downhill to make plays for himself and others.
“I feel like (the new offense is) more so how it was in high school, with more responsibilities,” said DeJulius, who scored 21 points on seven made 3-pointers in a scrimmage against Detroit Mercy last week.
“The coaching staff really allows us to play our games and I feel like I'm reaping the benefits from it as well as our entire team.”
Meeting of the minds
When former coach John Beilein’s Cavaliers were in town to face the Pistons during the preseason three weeks ago, he told reporters he was planning to meet and talk with Howard.
According to Howard, that meeting took place last week when he drove down to Cleveland.
“We had a great meeting,” Howard said. “It was my idea. I wanted to sit down and talk to him. I've always done this. When he was the head coach here and I was an assistant coach in Miami, Coach Beilein (and I) we developed that relationship. I've always respected his basketball knowledge for the game.
“I think he's one of those guys who I put on that basketball Mount Rushmore. That's pressure on him but it's a compliment to him. He's like that Pat Riley, that Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich type and Steve Fisher. Those guys are the basketball Mount Rushmore that I trust their opinion and I trust their basketball knowledge and experience.”
The first 3,500 fans to enter Crisler Center for Tuesday’s regular-season opener against Appalachian State will receive a Howard bobblehead.
Howard said he’s already seen the figurine — which features Howard wearing his old No. 25 Michigan jersey under a suit — and gave it a thumbs up.
“Actually, it's not bad,” Howard said with a smile. “I think we needed a little bit more gray hair, but overall my wife said it could be a little bit lighter. She felt the complexion of that bobblehead version of me was a little bit dark. That's her way of saying I need some Vitamin D.”
... Mark Williams, a four-star center and top-30 recruit from Florida's IMG Academy, announced his commitment to Duke on Twitter. He picked the Blue Devils over Michigan and UCLA.