Juwan Howard and Mike Smith were on the podium after Michigan opened the NCAA Tournament with a win over Texas Southern.
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JUWAN HOWARD: I just want to say I’m so proud of our guys’ effort today after having a week layoff. The practice has been great leading up to this game. I love the fact our guys’ mindset and how they approach practice each and every day, working on our habits, on how we can improve as a team.
We expect Texas Southern, who earned the right to be here, well-coached team, was going to play hard from start to finish. Of course, we definitely wanted them to match our energy from start to finish. I really enjoyed the effort that our guys brought and the mindset that they had coming into this game.
Q. Hey, Coach, congrats on the big win. With Zeb and Terrance getting more minutes than they’ve gotten probably throughout the season and seeing time on the court at the same time, how big was it to have those guys step into the rotation and pick up some of the slack on the scoring?
JUWAN HOWARD: It was great, man. It’s all hands on deck. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready, and the young guys gave us a big lift because we had guys that was in foul trouble. Austin, unfortunately for him in the first half, as well as Chaundee, they picked up two quick fouls. And Zeb and Terrance was ready to go, and they gave us a really big spark coming off the bench.
Q. Juwan, can you talk a little bit about the play of Brandon Johns and how he’s adjusted to his role in the starting lineup?
JUWAN HOWARD: Brandon, this is not his first time. Last season, Isaiah was out with an injury, and Brandon was inserted into the starting lineup. Brandon understands, by being ready each and every time, you never know when your name’s going to be called on. But he pretty much expected that possibly he would be the guy that would have to fill in for the starting role, and I’m so happy that each and every day in practice, just knowing the fact that at times you’re going to play some four, you’re going to play some five, understanding his role and being a starter in his role.
Q. I wanted to ask you what you liked best about your team’s play today and what you saw, looking ahead from, obviously, a coaching perspective, where you thought you could have played better as a team.
JUWAN HOWARD: Our team, I love the fact that we came out, didn’t show any type of sign of fatigue. Like I said earlier, our practice was really good preparing for this moment right here. Offensively, we did a really good job of sharing the basketball. If you look at the numbers, each and every guy got an opportunity to shoot a shot when the shot is open, make a play for others.
I felt like, as far as cleaning up, we had too many turnovers, more on Hunter’s end. He had six. We’re going to go back and watch film and see what we can do better to improve it. That’s what it’s all about this year. You’re always going to get teams’ best. You’ve just got to be ready to go out there and compete, and our guys did a really good job of competing.
Q. Turning the page a little bit, as the nature of this tournament is, LSU next on deck. What do you know about them, or have you not really started your prep there yet?
JUWAN HOWARD: I haven’t started my prep yet. One game at a time. Let me enjoy this victory now.
Q. Let’s enjoy the victory by talking about Hunter Dickinson’s first NCAA Tournament game. Once again, a strong inside presence. He’s continuing to seemingly just grow up right before our eyes.
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, he’s been doing that all season long. Once he got started with the season and understanding the pace of the game, the physicality of the game, and then also knowing all the practice of improving day after day, whether it was on the practice court or in film.
He’s been growing. Hunter, it’s no surprise. Everyone knows about Hunter’s production this season because it’s been well documented, and he’s earned that right.
The key today is just being ready to understand that there are going to be times when teams double, making the right decision with the basketball, with the high IQ that he has. At times he wants to make that exciting play, but he knows that at times you have to keep it simple. That’s our motto. Let’s hunt for singles.
Q. Juwan, you mentioned enjoying this win. You didn’t get the chance last year, you and your guys. Can you say what nailing down the first NCAA win for this group means to you?
JUWAN HOWARD: It means a lot, man, because of what this group has dealt with since last year when we had a pause. First, before the pause, when we ended our season early before the Big Ten Tournament started.
To get to this point right here, I’m happy for every college team. I want to give the NCAA credit, also the Big Ten Conference credit as well, as well as our Michigan medicine and our athletic director, Warde Manuel. I know it hasn’t been easy. They’ve been learning as we go.
I’ve always said it before, the virus, no one can control the virus, but we’ve done a really good job of now having this opportunity to play, but being disciplined throughout the process and sacrificing a lot.
So I’m so proud of these kids and what they’ve dealt with this year. Now to be able to play this season, look forward to March, be part of the March Madness. It’s a blessing.
Q. Hey, Juwan, first of all, can you see us or only hear us?
JUWAN HOWARD: No, I can’t see you. How are you doing? I want to see you.
Q. That’s fine. I just didn’t know how it worked. I know you talk about staying ready so you don’t have to get ready, but for a guy like Zeb, who hadn’t scored in a game in a couple months, it’s impressive to see him do it in an NCAA Tournament. What confidence — you know, what have you seen in practice that gave you the confidence that he could do that?
JUWAN HOWARD: I’ve been seeing Zeb work hard every day in practice. Every day before practice, when I’m walking past the weight room and there’s a window, I can’t help him on off days because NCAA rules, but he’s always the first guy in the gym. It says a lot about his character, about his passion for the game, about his attitude. Zeb has not walked in our building one time and had a session about me, me, me, I, I, I, or asked anyone to feel sorry for him.
I knew that, if I put him in, he’s going to be able to provide. I didn’t know the type of scoring he’s going to do. It’s not about all that. He knows that, when I say you’re open, take your shot, and make or miss, live with the results. But it’s not about the point of making any shots. He just played very solid basketball.
Q. Juwan, as a former player, what do you make of the way Isaiah Livers has used his voice, wearing the shirt that he wore today, with the hashtag campaign —
JUWAN HOWARD: Honestly, I did not pay attention to his shirt. I was so locked into the game, game prep. Texas Southern. I didn’t pay attention to his T-shirt.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. Good luck the rest of the way.
JUWAN HOWARD: Thank you. You all stay safe.
Q. Mike, congratulations on the great game. Zeb and Terrance played big minutes today, probably the most minutes they’ve had all season. How big is it to have those freshmen off the bench that are ready to go when you guys need them to step into the rotation?
MIKE SMITH: It’s huge. Coach always preaches next-man-up mentality and stay ready so you don’t have to get ready, and they came out there and did a tremendous job out there to help us.
Q. I’ll just follow up right there. On Zeb specifically, what have you kind of seen from him in terms of trying to navigate this year and not getting consistent minutes, not kind of having a defined role and things like that? Him just trying to kind of process that and play through it?
MIKE SMITH: Zeb is a tremendous hard worker. He wants to be out there and help us. Each and every day he wakes up at like 8:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., and gets shots up, you know what I mean? That just kind of shows the character of Zeb. He’s going to be a tremendous player for Michigan. I believe it, and I’m saying it now, and I’m going to stick with it.
Today he just showed a little bit of what he has to his game and came out there and did a great job.
Q. Mike, how would you assess your play in this game and in your team’s play in this game? What did you like? Maybe what weren’t you pleased with?
MIKE SMITH: I like how we came out aggressive. We played defense. We played really hard. What I didn’t like is we kind of let up, you know what I mean? We kind of played to score, and they came back. Obviously, there were some calls that didn’t go our way, but we can’t let that hinder us and affect us in a way where we played to their pace.
That was kind of on me to not — that’s kind of on me to not let that happen, and I should have taken control of the game when they started pressing. I take full responsibility for that. But we finished strong, and it feels really good to get a win.
Q. Mike, trying to live without Isaiah Livers on the court with you guys. I know you guys have been adapting to that for a couple of weeks now. But are you starting to see this team getting more comfortable with the new roles for everybody?
MIKE SMITH: For sure. Coach during practice is instilling confidence in everybody that we’re fine. Obviously, Isaiah is a big part of this team, a leader, a scorer, a defender. He just does it all. Without him, it’s been tough, but we’ve been adjusting, and I think we’ve done a tremendous job so far.
Q. Hey, Mike, a lot of guys playing in their first NCAA Tournament game, including yourself. Did you sense any jitters? I know you guys have played a lot of big games this year, but anything different about today?
MIKE SMITH: Personally, I was a little nervous at first, you know what I mean? I’ve watched it all my life, and to finally be a part of this was surreal during tip-off. But after that, I don’t think anybody else was nervous. Me being the oldest on the team and I was the most nervous, but it was a feeling I will never forget, and obviously the job’s not done. We have to lock in and get ready for the next game.
THE MODERATOR: We will try and come back to John. Next question.
Q. Hey, Mike, I was curious what you’ve seen from Brandon in practice since Isaiah was injured and if there’s any noted difference in how he’s played since the beginning of the season.
MIKE SMITH: He’s playing a lot more aggressive, you know what I mean? He has more minutes. Me and Coach and everybody has been telling him that he has to be more aggressive. He’s a talent that not a lot of people know about. If you’re a huge Michigan fan, you would know how good Brandon Johns really is. He can play. He stepped up the last couple of games and played really well for us.
I’m going to keep instilling confidence in him because he’s a great player, and we can use that.
Q. Hey, Mike, I was wondering if you could talk about Franz Wagner’s play today and how he’s able to contribute in every facet of the game.
MIKE SMITH: Franz is a two-way player. It’s hard to find somebody who doesn’t worry so much about offense and is still going to play so hard on defense and be a leader out there. Obviously, he didn’t have the offensive game that he wanted, but he stuck out there, and he played great defense, made the right plays, didn’t force anything, and that’s hard to find in a player, especially in college.
That just kind of shows the character of Franz, and that’s going to help him at the next level whenever he’s ready to go.
Q. Mike, I know a lot of us saw the T-shirt that Isaiah was wearing on the bench, the not NCAA property shirt. What do you guys make of how he’s used his voice, even though he’s not able to be on the court with you guys during this tournament?
MIKE SMITH: Isaiah, he’s going to speak his mind. Everybody has their own opinion, and he speaks his mind all the time. That’s all I can say to that.
Q. Mike, I was wondering what it does for guys like Zeb and — who haven’t gotten regular playing time this season, especially with the challenges you have coming up in the next game and beyond that.
MIKE SMITH: Can you repeat that, please?
Q. I was wondering what it does for guys like and Zeb and Terrance’s confidence when they haven’t gotten regular playing time this season to then be able to see some shots go in today when they got their chance?
MIKE SMITH: That just builds confidence, you know what I mean? Your confidence comes from when you see the ball go in or when you do something good. You start to get confident in that area of the game, and that’s going to help them down the stretch, especially next game when their name is called.
Q. You see so many Big Ten teams and other teams that are expected to win going out of this tournament. Does it become a matter of just you’re glad to get through any way you can and look forward to the next one?
MIKE SMITH: A win is a win, but at the end of the day, it’s one game at a time. I can only speak for Michigan and the University of Michigan and how we go about it, and we just take one game at a time and focus on that game and try to win that game and move on to the next one after we focused and game planned and executed our game plan.
THE MODERATOR: Mike, thank you very much. Good luck the rest of the way.
MIKE SMITH: Thank you so much.