Red-hot Michigan basketball has plenty of energy in reserves
Ann Arbor — Juwan Howard is usually too busy yelling out instructions, calling plays and paying attention to the action on the court to notice what’s going on behind him.
Even though he doesn’t see it, the Michigan coach can hear and feel the energy radiating from the bench. And during Tuesday’s top-10 clash against No. 9 Wisconsin, the level of activity was cranked up a few notches.
“They even had (assistant) coach Howard Eisley up clapping,” Howard said after Michigan’s 77-54 win. “Howard Eisley normally is more laid back. He claps when he's sitting down. But he was up and active.”
Playing without fans in the stands amid a pandemic has put a greater emphasis on the bench to serve as a source of power. And Michigan’s reserves haven’t been slacking in that department.
During Tuesday’s tilt, the Wolverines were rarely seated along the sidelines. From start to finish, the bench mob was standing, cheering, hollering, clapping, encouraging and invigorating their teammates.
“What I thought was so inspiring is hearing the bench energy when there was a timeout and they all rushed the floor,” Howard said. “They're a part of this team. All 17 matter and count, and we need them all. They can be sitting on their hands. They can be sulking about minutes and shots. But we haven't had that.
“They're inspired by watching their teammates compete out there on the floor and then the guys that go take a breather, they come off and they're feeding life into the guys that's on the floor.”
Howard has credited the bench in previous wins, including numerous times after the road victories over Nebraska and Maryland.
Regardless of the opponent or venue, the second unit has fueled the team and provided a pivotal charge. That consistent effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by their fellow Wolverines.
"I think it says a lot that you recognize that watching the game,” sophomore wing Franz Wagner told a reporter when asked about the bench behavior during the Wisconsin contest.
“That's how it's supposed to be. I think in this type of year where we don't really have our fans, I think that's very important that we have energy coming from the bench. I know, at least for me, it hypes me up a lot and gives me confidence when I'm out there.”
Wagner added the Wolverines on the sidelines aren’t just celebrating and dancing all the time. They’re also serving as a sixth man who helps by recognizing opponents' plays and calling out actions, particularly on defense.
“Having an engaged bench makes everything a lot more fun,” Wagner said.
Senior forward Isaiah Livers said the best part is Michigan doesn’t have any “energy vampires” who focus on themselves and suck the life out of the team. It’s a term Howard has used and got from the book “The Energy Bus,” which he received as a gift from Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“It's a brotherhood. Everybody enjoys each other's success,” Livers said. “They're not worried about their playing time, next year, next year is my time to shine. Everybody is worried about now. I think that's why this team works so much. Everybody is unselfish. Everybody wants to cheer. You feed off positive energy.
“Everybody is worried about them, them, them, my brother, my brother. That stuff goes a long way and I appreciate it. I hear everything and tell them that every time. Keep that energy coming. We love it."
Fifth-year senior center Austin Davis was in the lineup against Wisconsin after missing five games with a plantar fascia injury in his right foot, which he suffered in the nonconference finale against Toledo on Dec. 9.
Davis scored on his first post touch immediately after checking in against the Badgers and finished with four points and four rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench. Despite being out over a month and returning to practice three days before the game, Davis said he “felt good” from a conditioning standpoint.
"The original timeline (to return) was really open. That specific injury, it can go a lot of different ways,” said Davis, who noted he never had a prior condition or problem with his foot before.
“I think we did a great job getting back as quickly and safely as we could. I think everybody did a tremendous job of stepping up and filling that small void while I was out.”
… Michigan signees Moussa Diabate (IMG Academy) and Caleb Houstan (Montverde Academy) were among 25 players named to the Naismith high school boys midseason team. The 10 semifinalists for the player of the year award will be announced on Feb. 4.