Juwan Howard Talks Isaiah Livers Decision, Replacing Zavier Simpson
Michigan Wolverines basketball head coach Juwan Howard is in the midst of his first full offseason at U-M. It’s been a unique one, to say the least. In addition to the unprecedented unique reality of life in sports during the coronavirus pandemic, he’s also had to navigate the ever-changing nature of a new age college basketball roster.
After several transfers out and several transfers in, all eyes are back fixated on junior forward Isaiah Livers and his NBA decision. The NBA Combine has been postponed, with no rescheduled date just yet. The NCAA pushed back the deadline, which was originally set for June 3, for players to withdraw their names and return to school. That date isn’t set either.
For now, Howard is assisting Livers in the process, trying to gather as much information as possible so that his star forward makes the best decision he can.
“We’re going to do our best to help Isaiah make the best decision for his future,” Howard said in an interview with Big Ten Network’s Rick Pizzo. “We’re going to give him, along with his representatives, all the information that we’ve gathered. I’ve had talks with NBA teams, scouts, GMs.
“Isaiah’s an amazing talent. He has a chance to play at the next level. When will that happen? We don’t know, but he’s going to explore the options now, this year, this summer and see if his opportunity presents itself.”
Throughout the process, Livers has more than remained open to the possibility of returning to Ann Arbor. Soon after announcing, he said he needs a “guarantee” from a team that he’ll be selected, otherwise he has no problem returning.
“Isaiah has told me and others, if it’s not for him this year, he always has a beautiful opportunity that he enjoys coming back and he knows, at the end of the day, it’ll be a win-win for him to come back, because we’re going to do whatever we can to help him get ready and be the best version of himself as a student-athlete at the University of Michigan,” Howard said.
Life Without Zavier Simpson
The Wolverines have to replace one of the best leaders and point guards in college basketball of the last several seasons in Zavier Simpson. The transfer of David DeJulius to Cincinnati complicates the point guard situation, as well.
The addition of Columbia grad transfer Mike Smith will help, but Simpson’s play (12.9 points and 7.9 assists per game last season) and leadership will be hard to match.
“When you lose a guy like Zavier Simpson,” Howard began. “Zavier’s like the ultimate teammate. He’s also the guy that every coach would love to have on their team because, here’s a guy who comes to practice, works hard every day. He also gets in the gym on off days. Sometimes, you have to literally beg him to get off the floor because he’s such a worker, such a grinder. He really wants it, and he’s really passionate about the game of basketball.
“With his level of competitiveness and his basketball I.Q. as a point guard, he’s now just an extension of the coach out there on the floor. Our relationship is amazing; I enjoy coaching him.”
It won’t just be true point guards that will help replace Simpson’s production. A thin backcourt may have to mix and match, but Howard is confident in the roster makeup to get it done.
“So, the next two years, if you have to figure out how to replace a guy like that, it’s hard,” Howard said. “But, what we have coming back for next season, I trust the guys that are going to play at that position, and we’re going to use multiple guys at that position. Mike Smith is going to be one. [Freshman guard] Zeb Jackson, another. [Rising senior guard] Eli Brooks. If [incoming Purdue guard transfer] Nojel [Eastern] plays, another guy that we can use at that point guard position. So, what we have on our roster and the depth that we have on our roster, I feel very comfortable for the future of the program.”
London Will Have To Wait
U-M was set to play Kentucky at the O2 Arena in London this December, but it was recently announced that the game would be postponed and rescheduled to 2022 due to COVID-19.
Howard was excited for the London experience, but knows it was the right decision to wait.
“There were a few places where I always enjoy visiting when I’m in London,” Howard said. “But, it gets back to, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do this right.’
“Our health, the players health, is the most important thing. But, the beauty of it is yes, we’re not going to play it this year, but it’s just postponed. It’s going to be great to get the opportunity. I know Coach [John] Cal[ipari] and his team is looking forward to the experience, as well. A very highly competitive game against a great program, and two competitive programs, I would say.”
The two teams will still play a three-game series, beginning with a 2021 matchup in Ann Arbor, followed by the London Showcase in 2022 and wrapping up with a clash in Lexington in 2023.
“It’s going to be a beautiful series for both parties,” Howard said. “Next year, God willing, looking forward to coaching Kentucky in Ann Arbor. I know that’s going to be a lot of fun for our players and more importantly, our fans. “