Observations From Michigan Basketball Practice
Juwan Howard addressed the media, as did his assistants and players, before opening up practice for everyone to observe. Howard and Co. seem very excited about the upcoming season and there is quite a bit to be optimistic about. Here are a few observations from watching practice for about 40 minutes.
- Howard called junior guard Eli Brooks a "true combo guard" and it seemed to show during practice. He was fast in transition, shot it pretty well and showed off some bounce that I didn't know he had. Brooks said that he's gotten stronger and more explosive and he showed that off on several occasions. One time down on a fast break drill, Brooks went up and jammed it with two hands with ease. I didn't know he really had that in his game and he made it look easy. Howard was very complimentary of Brooks and sounded like he'll play him a lot.
- Junior guard/forward Isaiah Livers told us that he dropped 12-13 pounds and it was very obvious that he's slimmer and lighter on his feet. He looked to glide up and down the court during the fast break drills and definitely seemed to go hard from start to finish. I never really thought he needed to drop weight before, but he looked like a more athletic version of himself during yesterday's practice.
- Both freshmen, Cole Bajema and Franz Wagner, are thin but in different ways. Bajema was billed as a thin perimeter player but he actually was a little bigger than I expected at least through his shoulders and arms. He has a smooth stroke and looked like a legitimate 6-7. Wagner is also thin but appeared much lankier than Bajema. Wagner big feet and really looks like he's growing into his body still. Like Bajema, Wagner looks to be every bit of his program-listed height, which is 6-8. When running warm up laps, there wasn't a huge difference in height between Wagner and guys like Colin Castleton and Austin Davis, which is really saying something.
- Speaking of Colin Castleton, I loved his frame, length and athleticism for a true five. He really ran the floor well, finished with touch around the rim and had a little bit of an edge to him. He seems to have a lot of confidence heading into year two and said that he loves having a post player for a head coach. I wouldn't be surprised to see him play some really meaningful minutes this year and shine in that role.
- Sophomore forward Brandon Johns is also excited to play for a former post player. He and Castleton both smiled and laughed at the fact that Howard went up and threw one down in practice the other day. Johns said that he feels freer playing for Howard and that this type of system might just open him up this season. He's got talent, a great stroke and plenty of athleticism. I'm excited to see the leap he takes in year two after watching him run around the court today too.
- Sophomore guard David DeJulius echoed Johns' sentiments in terms of feeling freed under Howard. He was a shoot-first, scoring point guard in high school, but wasn't able to do his thing last year in a rigid, albeit effective, John Beilein system. DeJulius has a killer's mentality as a scorer and showed flashes of it in practice. He looked good creating off the dribble and was very comfortable going from full speed into a pull up jumper during drills. He's also showed outstanding range and aggressiveness.
- Finally, there's senior guard and heartbeat Zavier Simpson. The guy is such a leader and it showed even in 40 minutes of drills. He's constantly barking, teaching and directing traffic — and dudes LISTEN. At one point, Simpson was coaching up sophomore guard Adrian Nunez and Nunez could not have been more locked in and attentive. Not only did Nunez pay attention, he went out onto the floor and did exactly what Simpson just told him to do. In that specific instance, it was simply about talking and communicating in order to be in the right place and receive the right pass, but Simpson made sure it was done right. He's already locked in.
I also liked what I saw out of Columbia transfer Jaron Faulds. He's got a big body and is really well put together at 6-10, 240 pounds. He has a more athletic build than Austin Davis and he did a good job as the lone man on some 2 on 1 drills. Speaking of Davis, I liked a couple of things too. As always, he went hard, non stop. He was also very vocal and extremely loud while talking and communicating. He's limited athletically making those other traits more important for him.