Michigan Wolverines

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Juwan Howard adds former St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli to Michigan staff

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It’s the line that gets dropped and repeated time and again when a coach with minimal experience or a lack of regional ties gets a head coaching gig.

“The staff will be so important.”

It’s cliched at this point, but it’s also true. A head coach sometimes is only as good as the three people he hires to be his assistants. The three people that will recruit the players to the program and help guide the day-to-day as much – if not more – than anyone. It gets repeated because it’s true. A coach fortifying his program with smart and pragmatic hires is paramount.

Juwan Howard appears to have just done exactly that at Michigan.

The newly-appointed Wolverines coach is adding former St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli to his staff, giving the first-time head coach who has never spent time on a bench at the collegiate level the benefit of an experienced, veteran head coach of over 20 years who has been a National Coach of the Year while winning and recruiting big at a mid-major program.

It is, to use another cliche, a home run hire.

Martelli, who was awkwardly fired from St. Joe’s after 24 years this spring, knows the college game as well as maybe anyone in the country. Whether it’s advice on recruiting, practice plans, games strategy, booster relations or working with an administration and compliance, Martelli is going to be able to give Howard an informed opinion on nearly any question that gets posed. Martelli has the precise profile of a former head coach that Howard was looking to add.

Sure, Martelli may not be a powerhouse on the recruiting trail for Michigan, but Howard’s NBA ties, as well as those of his other reported hire of Howard Eisley, and the college know-how and continuity of Saddi Washington, who is expected to be retained from John Beilein’s staff, the Wolverines should be pretty well set on the trail. Getting players is always the first step, but helping them win is the next – and often helps with the first. Martelli can be of serious service there, especially for Howard, who has experience as an assistant with the Miami Heat but whose last college experience came as a player 25 years ago.

One of the best signs that someone has the chops to make it in coaching – and maybe in any industry – is when they know what they don’t know. Howard’s hiring of Martelli suggests he’s  aware of the shortcomings on his resume, and immediately sought to buttress those weaknesses with someone who has serious, high-level experience. There’s a long way to go before we can even begin to judge the Howard era in Ann Arbor, but the first steps seem to be on the right path.

Juwan Howard tears up during Michigan introduction

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The idea of a “Michigan Man” being the one needed to take over the Wolverine program from John Beilein was probably overplayed. There’s nothing that would preclude a coach – say like Billy Donovan or Tony Bennett or Jay Wright – who hadn’t spent time in a Michigan uniform or an Ann Arbor classroom from finding success with a wealthy – both in tradition and financial resources – program.

Michigan ties aren’t what’s ultimately going make or break the Wolverine program going forward.

***LARRY DAVID VOICE***

Having said that…

Juwan Howard’s reaction during his introductory press conference Thursday showed why having a deep connection – and care for – the program could go a long way.

“Tears of joy. I said I wasn’t going to cry. I guess that never happens when you’re excited about something so special to you, that means so much,” Howard said. “Last time I had a press conference in this building was 1994. I declared that I was going to go to the NBA. It felt like I was letting down my teammates because I didn’t do what I came here to do, which was bring a championship to this university. The university that I care so much about. I guess you can see that now.”

Whoever Michigan hired was going to work like a crazy person to keep the Wolverines on the trajectory that Beilein had set, but it’s clear that this is more than a job at a school for Howard, who came back to his alma mater after spending the last few years as a Miami Heat assistant. A college job is more than just Xs and Os, and selling your school and program – to recruits and boosters – is a big a part of it as anything.

It doesn’t appear that part of the job will be all that difficult for Howard.

Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis staying in 2019 NBA Draft

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Following a breakout freshman season, Michigan wing Ignas Brazdeikis will stay in the 2019 NBA Draft, he announced Tuesday on Twitter.

The 6-foot-7 Brazdeikis was one of the nation’s most productive freshmen this season, helping the Wolverines maintain top-ranked status despite some big losses from the season before. A confident scorer with an intriguing skillset, Brazdeikis put up 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season as he was one of the team’s go-to offensive weapons.

Brazdeikis shot 46 percent from the floor, 39 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line during the season. With Michigan making a coaching change with John Beilein accepting the Cleveland Cavaliers offer earlier in May, Brazdeikis would have returned to school with a new coach who hasn’t even been hired yet.

Most mock drafts have Brazdeikis currently in second-round range at this point but he could very easily play himself into a late first-round situation during workouts since 20-through-40 in this draft seems like such a fluid situation.

Four-star forward Jalen Wilson asks out of Michigan letter of intent

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John Beilein isn’t the only loss Michigan sustained this week.

Jalen Wilson, a top-50 guard in 2019, has requested out of his National Letter of Intent with the Wolverines, he announced Thursday.

“Due to the sudden head coaching change, I have requested my release from The University of Michigan, and will re-open my recruitment,” he wrote on social media.

Beilein’s decision to leave Michigan for the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the college basketball world earlier this week, and there’s little surprise to see it shake the Wolverines’ recruiting class as the head coaching position remains vacant and Michigan conducting a search of its next coach.

Wilson, a 6-foot-8 forward, is now considering Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma State and Florida along with the Wolverines, according to 247Sports. The Texas native suddenly becomes one of the most desirable players left available ahead of the upcoming season.

Cole Bajema, a top-150 wing from Washington, is the lone remaining signee in Michigan’s 2019 class.

Michigan’s Jordan Poole staying in 2019 NBA Draft

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Michigan sophomore guard Jordan Poole will remain in the 2019 NBA Draft, according to a post on his Instagram.

The 6-foot-5 Poole already announced his intention to declare for the NBA draft while signing an agent. But Poole has made it clear that he’ll not be returning to school before the May 29th deadline as he’s set on turning pro.

“I need to thank God for putting me in the position to walk along the right path. There has been much consideration, but after weighing all my options and having many positive discussions, my family and I, along with the help of coach (John) Beilein and the rest of the coaching staff, believe now is the right time for me to begin my professional basketball career,” Poole said in a statement. “It has been a dream of mine to play in the NBA. I feel I am ready to go after that dream.”

As a sophomore, Poole became a key piece for the Wolverines as he averaged 12.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 rebounds per game. Shooting 43.6 percent from the floor and 36.9 percent from three-point range, Poole is a talented shot creator who can be very streaky.

Poole’s decision to leave has major ramifications on Michigan for next season as the Wolverines currently sit at No. 2 in the NBCSports.com Preseason 2019-20 Top 25. Without Poole, Michigan will likely turn to Eli Brooks to earn more minutes.

The pro decision of freshman wing Ignas Brazdeikis now becomes a major focus for the Wolverines this offseason as his return would likely solidify Michigan as a top-five preseason team. If Brazdeikis also opted to go pro like Poole, and junior Charles Matthews, then the Wolverines would need to figure out where their offense will come from next season.

Texas Tech clamps down on Michigan to reach Elite 8

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Texas Tech is in the Elite 8 for the second-consecutive season.

The third-seeded Red Raiders absolutely dominated No. 2 Michigan in a 63-44 victory in Anaheim on Thursday to once again be on the doorstep of the Final Four.

Chris Beard’s top-ranked defense looked as formidable as ever as Michigan, a top-20 offense, had no answer for the Red Raiders’ scheme. The Wolverines shot 32.7 percent from the floor for the game and were an astonishing 1 of 19 from 3-point range – and that one make came with 21.8 seconds left in the game.

“I feel like we stayed true to ourselves. We played the defense we’ve been playing all year and their shots wasn’t going in,” Jarrett Culver said after the game. “We had urgency. We knew they had great players that could shoot the ball pretty well. So urgency and staying true to our defense.”

Michigan turned it over 14 times while making just 16 shots. Iggy Brazdeikis scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds in a rare bright spot on the night.

“Watching Michigan it’s been like a coaching clinic. I have an old school spiral that I used. Im not really an iPad guy. I have a red pen, black pen, old school spirals, and on the back of the page before I write notes for us basically to steal things from other people,” Beard said. “During the off-season I will go back and add things and my whole notebook is filled with red because Michigan is so well-coached and Coach Beilein does such a great job.

“We knew they were going to exploit our pick-and-roll switch and going inside and come out and do some things different and you just try and do things to help your guys and at halftime we made a few adjustments.”

The Red Raiders had never been to an Elite 8 in the program’s history, and now Beard has gotten them there twice in three years. He’s done it with two different rosters, too, with Culver really the lone holdover – and he was clearly the third option in 2018 behind Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith. It’s been remarkable work in Lubbock by Beard, who will almost certainly be mentioned among every top job that opens in the foreseeable future. He’s having that kind of success out in west Texas.

“You’ve got to give the guys credit. A lot has been made of the culture, but it’s these guys,” Beard said. “The first thing in recruiting is making sure they can play in the Big 12, and it’s a talent business. We do really good with guys that love to play. Last night we went to a local high school and got shots up and just played shooting games and stuff and some of the younger coaches on the stuff want to keep their legs. Is this too much? No, this is us.

“We made Jarrett Culver go to bed when we got back, but everybody loves to “hoop.” We have a culture that is based on guys that love the game and love each other.”

Culver finished with 22 points on 9 of 19 shooting while Davide Moretti had 15 and Matt Mooney 10.

It’s a disappointing out for the Wolverines, who looked like a favorite to return to the Final Four for a second-consecutive year after opening the season with 17-straight wins. Instead, they missed out on a Big Ten regular-season title, a conference tournament title and saw their season halted in the Sweet 16.

Texas Tech will face top-seeded Gonzaga – the No. 1 defense vs. the No. 1 offense – on Saturday with the winner moving on to Minneapolis.

“Their passion, their togetherness, their courage, thousand aggressive they are, at this point I’m a fan (of Gonzaga),” Beard said, “and here in the next hour or so I’ve got to flip that and start to get ready to try to prepare against them. I can say this early on no one has more respect for Gonzaga than I do personally and our program.”