As soon as Juwan Howard was hired, I thought for sure that he'd be a good recruiter. Of course, he's already exceeded expectations there by inking the No. 1 class in the Big Ten last year and the No. 1 class in the entire country for this cycle.
He obviously has a presence at 6-9 and has always been a very sharp dude in terms of how he looks and conducts himself. He is the founding member of the Fab Five as the first from the famous group to commit to Michigan. He was the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft, was the first player to ever sign a $100 million contract and played in the league for 19 years. He gained the respect of guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade en route to two NBA titles and then went on to coach alongside Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra with the Miami Heat. In the world of basketball, he's done it all. A resumé like that speaks for itself when a coach sits down in a living room with prospects and parents.
Then you have how genuine he is and was during his introductory press conference. Reactions and emotions like that can't be faked. He's real, a little raw and, in the best way possible, just one of the guys. His coaching chops probably aren't on the level of some coaches in the Big Ten just yet, but he laps a lot of them in several other areas that are just as, if not more important.
Those kinds of traits make for dynamic recruiters and Howard has proven that he's just that. In a short amount of time, Howard has managed to become one of the best recruiters in the entire country and he's just getting started.
I knew Howard would be a good recruiter, but I didn't know he'd be this good this fast. After seeing him in person many times at different press conferences, however, I'm not at all surprised.
I witnessed Howard welcome 247Sports's Josh Henschke back after battling an illness. I laughed as Howard went back and forth with Michigan student and Michigan Daily writer Daniel Dash about what he had for lunch. I grinned big after Howard told my obviously-then pregnant wife congratulations, which was accompanied by a subtle smile and "beautiful" as he exited a press conference.
These are all examples of what being "real" is all about. These are the reasons why Howard is winning over talented prospects and parents. Only it's not actually "winning someone over" with Howard. He says what he means and means what he says. If he can take a big step forward when the season starts in just five short days, he'll continue to crush it on the recruiting trail and could take Michigan basketball to heights not even John Beilein could, which is really saying something.
Yesterday assistant coach Phil Martelli, who has been coaching on some level for more than 40 years, spoke with the media and seemed to be as impressed by Howard as he's ever been by someone involved in the sport.
"I was just thinking about that the other day," Martelli said when asked about Howard's ability as a leader and culture cultivator. "I don’t know where I was but I was thinking about how every team or organization will say to you, culture, values and all this other stuff. Being perfectly frank, sometimes it’s bull shit. I just think that people use it as catch phrases because they're supposed to say it.
"To Juwan’s credit, he does live by those cultural beliefs. He really does see everybody involved in the program as family. He understands that in families, you treat each other fairly but you do have to treat each other a little differently.
"He truly is a servant. He wants to serve all the young guys. That’s the support staff and all these phenomenal student managers. He wants to serve in practice. He wants to serve the walk on as much as he wants to serve Franz Wagner.
"There was a practice about three or four weeks ago where he must’ve spent three or four or five minutes, and sometimes that can seem like an eternity during practice. He was going over a defensive maneuver. I looked out and he was going over it with two walk ons. I had to say something, I told him that kind of attention and that kind of care leaves me with no doubt that you’re going to be extraordinary at this.
"The extended trust of Saddi [Washington] on the defensive side of the ball and Howard Eisley on the offensive side of the ball. They could say it’s me being me but I really do believe that he’s a can’t miss. He will coach a national champion before he leaves Michigan."
What an endorsement from a guy who knows people, coaches and hoops.
Howard is fun to cover, easy to root for and actually pretty damn good at being a basketball coach — both as a recruiter and an X and Os guy. He's still getting better at the latter, but he's as good as they come at the former. He's got some nice streaks and some solid wins under his belt, and if he keeps recruiting the way he has been, he'll start piling those things up too. Michigan tips off in six days and Wolverine fans everywhere are excited to see how this team plays together as a part of such a healthy environment.