There is still plenty unknown about Juwan Howard and how the new Michigan basketball head coach will recruit.
When Howard was asked about the type of players he would target at his introductory news conference this past Thursday, his answer was honest in its uncertainty.
“I’m all eyes and all ears to talent,” Howard said. “I haven’t pinpointed exactly (whether) I’m going after 5-star, one-and-dones, or if I’m going to recruit 3-star kids. As a staff, we will meet and figure out what is the best solution moving forward to give us the best chance to win.”
One certainty, though, is that Howard still holds plenty of close ties to Chicago. It’s where he was born and where his grandmother, Jannie Mae Howard, raised him. He blossomed into an elite basketball recruit at Chicago Vocational High School.
And it’s one place Howard and his yet-to-be-announced staff could make an immediate impact.
“There’s always been a genuine respect for Juwan Howard, even after he got away from Chicago and became what he became in the NBA for two decades,” said Joe Henricksen, publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report. “I think that is immediately going to help Michigan. I think Michigan is going to be a bigger player going forward.
“A lot will be determined on the staff he puts together, but regardless of the staff, Juwan is going to have his fingerprints in Chicago recruiting. And if he decides to get after it and made Chicago a priority, I think Michigan can be a bigger player than they have been.”
For the past three years, U-M had one Chicago native on the roster in Charles Matthews, who transferred from Kentucky following the 2015-16 season. Otherwise, U-M had not prioritized Chicago under former head coach John Beilein.
That was beginning to change thanks to former assistant coach Luke Yaklich, from Illinois, who coached high school basketball in the state and later was an assistant at Illinois State.
Yaklich and Michigan were heavily involved with Talen Horton-Tucker, a 4-star prospect in the class of 2018 who later picked Iowa State and declared for the NBA draft after one season. They had also begun to recruit DJ Steward, a 4-star guard in the class of 2020, and Max Christie, a 5-star wing in the class of 2021. And this past spring, the Wolverines nearly landed Justin Pierce, a grad transfer originally from Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
Yaklich is gone. But Howard could take the Wolverines’ recruiting in the Chicago area to another level.
Michigan could contend for prospects like Steward, the No. 108 overall prospect in the class of 2020 who Henricksen said “fits the Michigan mold,” or Adam Miller, the No. 24 overall prospect in the class of 2020 who layed on the same AAU team as Jace Howard, one of Juwan’s sons.
“This is the first head coach at Michigan in a while that I think can have an impact recruiting Chicago,” Henricksen said. “… Obviously, Juwan has more pop and more name recognition and he’s the head coach. That’s just always a boon when it’s the head coach. Yaklich did a great job, but at the end of the day, Beilein was the guy. It’s a different tone when it’s the head coach to have the juice in a particular area.”
Although Howard enjoyed a 19-year NBA career and immediately began his coaching career in Miami upon retirement, he is still connected to Chicago. According to Henricksen, Howard remains a respected figure among those he grew up with — many of whom now hold top positions in the high school basketball scene or on the AAU circuit.
Jace Howard, a prospect in the class of 2020, played with Mac Irvin Fire in the spring, one of the top organizations in Chicago.
Both Jace and Jett Howard, a highly-touted prospect in the class of 2022, train with Lauren Foster, a long-time figure on the Chicago hoops scene who attended Howard’s introductory news conference in Ann Arbor.
Foster also trains Nimari Burnett, a 5-star guard in the class of 2020 originally from Chicago, and was the reason why Burnett met Juwan Howard as a child.
“This lady named Ms. Foster, she’s famous in Chicago,” Burnett told the Free Press on May 22 shortly after Howard was hired by Michigan. “Juwan Howard is from Chicago. Ms. Foster and I were close, and (Howard and I) met up when I was like 9 or 10. I’ve known him since then.”
These are the ties that still bind Howard to his hometown, even if he has not maintained a daily presence in the city since his high school days. And they are the ties that could make him and Michigan a bigger player in the area.
“If they choose to make Chicago a priority, which remains to be seen,” Henricksen said, “I would anticipate Michigan being a bigger player in certain circumstances in Chicago than they have been in years.
“… Juwan Howard’s a respected name in basketball, but there are personal ties and relationships that are already built in in Chicago that are probably going to be a little bit different than there are in other parts of the country.”