It has been one year since Juwan Howard took over the reins at Michigan.
May 22 marked the one-year anniversary since Howard was named John Beilein’s successor and became the head coach at his alma mater. And since that day, it has been quite the ride.
The 2019-20 season had its peaks and valleys before it ended abruptly when the postseason was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. That has been followed by an eventful offseason where Michigan has been burned twice late in recruiting cycle, secured the top recruiting class in the Big Ten and had its share of additions and losses via the transfer portal.
Given everything that’s happened, we caught up Terry Mills, a member of Michigan’s 1989 national title team who completed his seventh season as an analyst in the team’s radio booth, to look back at last season, look ahead to 2020-21 and discuss other happenings in college basketball. (Note: some questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Question: Last year was rollercoaster first season for Howard and the Wolverines. What do you think went right at times and where did it go sideways at times?
Answer: "At the high points at the start of the season, going out and winning that (Battle 4 Atlantis) tournament, that was a plus. I think that set the bar. You're talking about a Michigan team that wasn't even ranked to start the year off. To have that success right there, I think that raised the expectations and maybe some unrealistic fans didn't think there was going to be some bumps in the road. You go win this tournament, you go beat Gonzaga, you beat North Carolina, you beat all of these high-quality teams and all of a sudden you're not supposed to lose a game. I knew they were going to take their bumps in the road, which they did, and I thought they responded quite well. They were very competitive all year long. I can't recall a game where I could really say Michigan is out of this game at halftime and let's make up something here on the broadcast to keep the listeners tuned in. I thought every game they played was very competitive.”
Q: Given he had no prior head-coaching experience at any level, Howard was an unproven college coach heading into 2019-20. What did he prove to you last season?
A: "I think just his prep work overall. I thought he hit the ground running. For him not to be a head coach and me being around Coach Beilein the last six, seven years and to see how he prepares and gets guys ready to go, I was very impressed by Juwan with his film work, his game preparation, his practices. I don't think enough guys really get that opportunity and that recognition like Juwan Howard. (Athletic director) Warde Manuel hires him, he gets an opportunity, he proves himself. You've got a lot of guys out there that might be former players that are trying to get into coaching and many of them just don't get that opportunity. It was good to see Juwan get that opportunity and then become successful. I thought he put an excellent staff around him — Saddi Washington, Phil Martelli, Howard Eisley. I think that he had to learn the ropes and basketball wasn't necessarily what he needed to learn, it's just probably the rules and regulations. I think that that's where a guy like Saddi Washington comes in who has been through the gauntlet, and Phil Martelli who has been through it. I thought Juwan did an excellent job and recruiting speaks for itself. We had some tough breaks with guys wanting to go other places and do other things with their careers, but I've been very impressed as far as his recruiting is concerned."
Q: Howard often said he was learning and growing as coach with each game. Are there any areas you thought he evolved in over the course of the season?
A: "Clock management and knowing your timeouts. Sometimes as a coach you get caught up in the moment and you forget that you had a timeout, or you may forget that this player had two fouls or three fouls before halftime. I think that those type of things he started growing on. You've always got your bench and your coaches to remind you and be able to say Zavier Simpson has two fouls and there's two minutes left in the first half, we need to get him out of there. I think as the season went on and us (radio crew) sitting so close to the bench in most cases on the road, he didn't have to be reminded of that. It's like he knew what was happening in the ballgame — time, situation and things like that. That's where I've seen him grow at is understanding clock management, situational scenarios.”
Q: What do you make of the transfers of David DeJulius, Colin Castleton and Cole Bajema?
A: “Playing time and maybe they feel like they're not a Juwan Howard type of player, per se. You've got to understand those guys were recruited under coach John Beilein and it's obvious that John Beilein's philosophy and Juwan Howard's philosophy is something totally different. With that, I think those players felt like they needed to move on in order for them to have a successful college career. It didn't seem like, to me, there were any hard feelings from all the comments. I've heard Coach Howard wishing those guys the best of luck and he has always said positive things about those guys. He never came to me and said, 'Hey, these guys could never play for me at this level.' He was very impressed with those guys. He talked about these guys developing but sometimes as a player, you've got to make your own decision. And if you don't feel like you fit in, then it's time for you to move on.”
Q: Michigan has pursued top talent and landed transfers Mike Smith (Columbia), Nojel Eastern (Purdue) and Chaundee Brown (Wake Forest), who are all veteran starters (only Smith’s addition has been officially announced by the program to date). With Howard coming from the NBA where teams look for production right away, is this a sign he’ll manage his roster in a similar fashion as opposed to building up players for three or four years?
A: “You're talking about philosophies once again and it's obvious that when you look at Juwan Howard's philosophy it's more or less getting those veteran players that's ready to go, ready to play and just talent-wise, as opposed to coach John Beilein getting players, developing them and taking them to the next level. I think that's the difference in philosophy even with recruiting. Most guys that come in that are four- and five-star rated players can play right away, be an impact-type player. You can see when Juwan is out recruiting and the players that he's getting, these seniors, they're very productive. You're talking about Smith, a guy that's averaging over 20 points a ballgame in Division I basketball. I don't care if it's the Ivy League, this guy can play at some level because he averaged 20 points a ball game. I think he's going to have success in the Big Ten. Talking about (Brown), you never know what's going to happen with that (waiver) situation, but he's a very productive player. I've heard nothing but positive things about him and I think he's going to hit the ground running. You've got to respect whatever decision Nojel may make (possibly staying in NBA Draft) and wait that one out. I think, overall, Juwan has done an excellent job and has got some players that's going to come in and produce right away."
Q: Howard has his system he’s putting in place and is now bringing in his first wave of recruits. What do you think Michigan’s style of play will look like next season?
A: "I think it's going to continue to evolve. When you look at his recruiting, I think he's trying to recruit players that can fit his system and his system is predicated to the NBA where you're throwing it in the post or you're playing positionless basketball. You've got guys right now that can play one, two and three and some even four (positions). You look at a guy like Isaiah Livers, in my opinion he could guard anywhere one through four. And you definitely want to have a post player to take advantage of situations and I thought he did that. That was an old-school mentality that he brought back. We've got an advantage and we want to push the ball inside to big Jon Teske. You wouldn't see that under John Beilein. I thought it was a little bit a growth thing for Teske because he wasn't used to being (down in the post). Under Coach Beilein, he was more of a pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll slasher type of guy who caught passes, caught alley-oops around the basket. Now when Juwan comes in we're going to drop him in the post and you need to make a powerful move. I thought he developed a jump hook in the lane and it was a different philosophy. I think when kids are being recruited now, if you have aspirations of playing at the next level, playing under Juwan Howard would definitely take you to that next level because he's using terminology that they're using in the NBA. So, you've got that terminology down, especially from a defensive standpoint, from an offensive standpoint, and it's not going to be anything new to you. When you hear a number called or a certain defense called, you'll be able to adapt to that because of his philosophy at the college level and he's using it as far as the NBA is concerned."
Q: Looking ahead to next season, what intrigues you about the roster as it has shaped up?
A: "Just versatile guys. I'm very excited about that. You're talking about guys who can play two, three and four positions. You've surrounded yourself around some shooters. You've got Franz (Wagner) returning. I really like what we're going to look like next year. I think we'll be a much deeper team than we were last year and that's a plus. Juwan will put his players in position to succeed. I'm quite sure he's watching a lot of film of what they were doing in high school and trying to implement it and bring it over to the college ranks. This is where this guy likes to score at or this is where he likes the ball on this side of the floor if you're (incoming freshman center) Hunter Dickinson as opposed to that side of the floor. Anything to make these players a little more comfortable coming in, I think Juwan will carry that over."
Q: Aside from staying healthy, is there anything you felt Michigan lacked last season that it will need this year to help its Big Ten chances?
A: "I thought depth was one of the biggest hurdles that they had to overcome. Then when you talk about injuries, you always come in and have the mentality of next man up. But in my opinion, there was a falloff there. You could say next man up, but it's hard to replace 15 points if that's what Isaiah Livers is giving us and say one guy on the bench is going to come off and give us 15 points and we don't have to worry about that. They had to figure out where they're going to get these extra 12-14 points a ballgame when somebody went out like Isaiah.”
Q: Where do you stand in regard to the one-time transfer waiver?
A: “I would be against it. As a former player, I don't even know what the number was back when I played (from 1987-90) but it would be very few guys transfer. It’s not the way that number is right now, and this number right now is just ridiculous (over 800 Division I players have entered the transfer portal in 2020, per Stadium.com). You would have a whole different look to your roster if you allow guys to transfer and I think that number would go up even more than this year because now you have guys thinking about transferring but you've got a lot of guys who might be hesitant saying, 'Well, I'm going to have to sit out a year and I don't want to sit out a year.' You tell guys they can transfer and I don't have to sit out, they would probably be gone in a minute. There's a chance those three guys that transferred this year (DeJulius, Castleton and Bajema) might have left last year. If you allow that one-time transfer, I think those numbers are going to be ridiculous. And then what's your reasoning for transferring? That's opens up recruiting somewhere else, you're trying to more or less turn a player. Who is to say a player doesn't get called by another coach who says, 'Hey, man. I want you to transfer. You'll fit in with us.' It changes that whole recruiting aspect to me. It opens up a can of worms."
Q: The NCAA has taken steps toward allowing college athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness. Are NIL rights something you're in favor of?
A: "I'm definitely for that, but I think that you have to find a number and that number needs to be equal across the table because some players’ likeness is not going to be the same as somebody else's likeness. The guy that's 11th (on the bench) is not going to get what a starter is getting. I think that a number has to be found and that's what has to be given across the board. Let's say the number is $2,000 across the board. OK, those guys are guaranteed $2,000, and if the other guys in the starting five start getting endorsement deals, that’s likeness on that. But I think there's got to be a number set across the board for those less fortunate guys that don't have that likeness as opposed to a starting guy.”
Q: How much do you figure you could've profited off your name, image and likeness back when Michigan won the national title?
A: "Definitely could've benefited whether it was autograph signings, jersey signings, appearances. When you're hot and you're a big program and you're doing well, those type of endorsements are going to come up. I can only imagine what those endorsements would've looked like coming off of a national championship where you're in high demand and people want to see you. I've seen that even from the standpoint of a broadcaster that those appearances go up even for me. When Michigan makes it to the Final Four, there even becomes more of a demand for me. I think (players) would have these opportunities if you start making the Sweet 16s and Final Fours. I think from a player standpoint, they're going to have regulate that and regulate their time. You don't want their time to become film, practice and then you're in high demand of taking pictures and doing appearances and then not getting proper rest and getting prepared for the game. I think from a coaching standpoint, I think coaches will probably regulate that. You've got a two-hour window to do whatever you're going to do during this time because, like said, you start getting to the Final Four and demand for your time goes to a whole different level. It comes with me on appearances on Big Ten Network and ESPN wants to talk. That's just what happens when you start winning and you're at a high level. That's where definitely the NCAA would have to watch because teams like North Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, those teams are in high demand. They have high jersey sales and they're always going to be in high demand.”
Q: As a former McDonald’s All-American and top recruit, how attracted would you have been to the G League pathway program?
A: “It’s very alluring. It's really a no-brainer. Most kids are coming out and some may be poverty-stricken. For six figures, you're taking that in a heartbeat. I don't blame those if that six-figure (salary) was out there, but that's not out there for everybody. That's going to be hard to beat them. I don't think the NCAA can really compete against that, especially guys that you may looking at and it's for sure a one-and-done situation. You don't have to take this overseas route anymore. You can go right to G League and make $200,000 or $300,000 and bounce to the NBA. I think that definitely helps kids. Going the European way, it's a little difficult especially being at the age that they are. I can speak from experience because I played over in Greece for about three or four months when I came out of college. It’s a big culture shock when you don't speak the language. That's a big difference as opposed to saying I can go to the G League, make six figures for five or six months and then I can be in the NBA Draft. That's going to be tough. Not every kid these days is saying I want to go to college and I want to get my degree. Maybe that used to be the norm, but that's the norm anymore. It's going to be tough on coaches from a recruiting standpoint because you used to recruit kids and be able to say I want you to come to school, I want you to get your degree. Right now, you've got parents that are pretty much saying, 'Is my kid a one-and-done?' That's what you've got to face right now is if your kid is a one-and-done; not, 'I'm giving your kid a four-year scholarship.'”