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Top-ranked class cements Michigan coach Juwan Howard as top-notch recruiter

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

When Juwan Howard arrived at Michigan, he was viewed as someone who would fare well as a recruiter given his background and resume.

It’s safe to say he has met those expectations — and more.

After securing the No. 1 class in the Big Ten his first year, Howard and the Wolverines entered the start of the early signing period on Wednesday atop the 2021 national recruiting rankings.

Juwan Howard

“I think that most people assumed that him being a guy as part of the Fab Five and all those years in the NBA that some younger players would actually know about him a little bit and certainly the people involved with them,” Eric Bossi, 247Sports national basketball director, told The News this week.

“And him having children who are the age of the guys that he's recruiting (Jace, a Michigan freshman; and Jett, a 2022 prospect), he's had a chance to be around a lot of families. But I don't think anyone could've reasonably expected him to be coming in and having a No. 1-ranked recruiting class in his second year.”

That’s where Michigan stands after a recent hot stretch on the recruiting trail netted the Wolverines a pair of five-star recruits from two Florida prep powerhouse programs: Caleb Houstan, a sweet-shooting forward from Montverde Academy, and Moussa Diabate, an athletic big man from IMG Academy.

The two international prospects — Houstan hails from Canada and Diabate from France — anchor a six-man class that's ranked No. 1 in the country by 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals. Houstan headlines the pack as the No. 8 overall recruit, 12 spots ahead of Diabate, per the 247Sports composite.

The group is rounded out by the foursome who pledged over the summer: four-star guard Frankie Collins (No. 59), four-star guard Kobe Bufkin (No. 63), four-star wing Isaiah Barnes (No. 114) and three-star forward Will Tschetter (No. 155).

All six commits are expected to ink their letters of intent during the weeklong period, though Michigan won’t make an announcement until they’re all officially signed.

“I don't get into the ratings of No. 1 classes and stuff like that. I'll let whoever does that to decide,” Howard said. “I just go after guys that I feel fit our culture. It's been great to see those who have chose Michigan have embraced the vision that we have moving forward.”

While Howard focuses more on identifying players whose skill sets mesh with his system, the rankings still paint a picture of the impressive job he’s done over the past 17 months.

During his first spin through the recruiting cycle, Howard hit the ground running and made up for lost time by building relationships with prospects — some who were being recruited by programs for years — in a matter of months.

There were misses and twists along the way — most notably with five-star forward Isaiah Todd, who decommitted to sign with the NBA’s G League, and five-star guard Joshua Christopher, who signed with Arizona State — but Howard showed his prowess. By the end of it, he managed to assemble a four-man class that ranked No. 15 in the nation and featured three top-100 prospects: center Hunter Dickinson (No. 42), guard Zeb Jackson (No. 87) and forward Terrance Williams (No. 92).

Howard topped that with a 2021 class that’s rated the program’s best in the modern recruiting era, which dates to 2003. The haul cements his status as a high-level recruiter both in the real and virtual world, given there has been a ban on in-person contact and evaluation since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our staff, we didn't make any excuses. We had to figure it out and see what was the best way to go out there and recruit,” Howard said. “Why sit back and be upset with the fact that we can't bring recruits on campus and show them the Michigan experience? Well, let's take the Michigan experience to them.”

It paid off as Howard has wasted little time making his mark. According to 247Sports’ recruiting database, Howard has landed seven of Michigan’s 25 highest-rated recruits and half of the program’s four five-star commits since 2003.

“Clearly he's going to be a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail,” Bossi said. “I don't think this is a two-year wonder by any means. The guy looks built to last in that aspect.”

And even though Howard isn’t quite sure how to evaluate himself as a recruiter, one thing is clear — he certainly has a knack for it.

“Fortunately enough," Howard said, "last year's class and this upcoming class in 2021, these guys want to be here at Michigan, we want them to be here and we're looking forward to building something special."

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins