Ann Arbor — College basketball programs across the country will begin securing letters of intent from recruits when the early signing period starts on Wednesday.
At least, that’s the hope for Michigan coach Juwan Howard.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed,” Howard said Monday.
The Wolverines have two verbal commits for their 2020 recruiting class in five-star forward Isaiah Todd and four-star guard Zeb Jackson.
Todd, the No. 12 overall recruit in the country per 247Sports, is the first prospect Howard has recruited from start to finish and landed since becoming head coach. Jackson, the No. 62 overall recruit, verbally committed to former coach John Beilein and reaffirmed his pledge to Howard.
As it stands, the two-member class is rated No. 20 in the nation and No. 3 in the Big Ten in 247Sports’ rankings. Howard still has two available scholarships at his disposal for 2020, barring any additional attrition following the season.
"It's very competitive out there,” Howard said when asked what he has learned the most about recruiting. “When I took the job, for the 2020 class, I had to hit the ground running and I knew I was behind the eight ball. There are a lot of other schools that have been recruiting the 2020 class two years ahead of me.
“I was working extremely hard and will continue to keep working hard to be able to sign and recruit (a player) that fits Michigan as far as a student, a high-character player and a skill level that fits our program."
Michigan hosted numerous top-50 recruits for official visits this fall and was a finalist for five-star guard Jaden Springer (Tennessee), five-star center Walker Kessler (North Carolina), five-star guard Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech), four-star guard Moses Moody (Arkansas), four-star forward Lance Ware (Kentucky) and four-star center Mark Williams (Duke).
The Wolverines remain in the hunt for four-star center Hunter Dickinson, who has already visited Ann Arbor, as well as five-star guard Joshua Christopher, who has reportedly moved up his official visit to Nov. 22.
Howard has also offered his son Jace, who is a three-star wing, and is making a late run at four-star guard Adam Miller, who tweeted he received an offer on Tuesday.
“I know that we have worked hard, me and my staff. I give my staff a lot of credit as well to work extremely hard to find the right players that fit this program,” Howard said. “Yes, there are some players that we lost out on, but we were right there in the race. Do I believe in moral victories? No. I believe in getting the job done.”
The early signing period for Division I basketball runs through Nov. 20. The regular signing period starts April 15, 2020 and ends May 20, 2020.
During Beilein’s Michigan tenure, he had a strict policy to bench any player who picked up two fouls in the first half.
Howard used a similar approach in the exhibition against Saginaw Valley State when senior center Jon Teske was glued to the bench after he drew his second whistle with 6:39 left in the half. The same applied in the regular-season opener when senior guard Zavier Simpson picked up his second foul at the 12:22 mark — only to check back in for the final offensive play of the half.
“Do I have a rule? I'm not going to say I do have a rule,” Howard said. “It's a part of reading the game. It may be a case-by-case basis and it also depends on the opponent, who (Simpson) is guarding. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that when he picks up two fouls that he's always going to sit the first half.”
Howard added having trust in a player to stay on the floor without fouling is part of the equation.
“You can't do it with everyone,” he said. “You have to do it with the guys you feel that are smart enough, disciplined enough to be able to know that they have two fouls and that they can't risk getting that third foul.”
Several Wolverines, including sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr., sophomore guard David DeJulius and Howard, took to social media to offer their condolences to the Winston family following Zachary Winston’s death.
Johns said he met Zachary, the brother of Michigan State star Cassius Winston, through AAU and they got to know one another from attending the same basketball camps.
“He's probably one of the goofiest people I've ever met, one of the most positive people I've ever met,” Johns said. “He'd always make jokes about anything, joke with you about anything. He was just a positive spirit.”
… Howard didn’t have an updated recovery timeline for freshman wing Franz Wagner (wrist fracture) and isn’t pointing to a certain game he hopes to have him back by.
Under the initial four-to-six-week recovery window, it's possible Wagner could resume basketball activities as soon as next week.
"I will just do a really good job of listening to our medical team,” Howard said. “I know that they have the experience that I feel they will advise Franz as well as myself what's the best timetable for his return.”