Juwan Howard, Eli Brooks, Caleb Houstan and Hunter Dickinson met with the media in Indianapolis today to preview Michigan’s NCAA Tournament opener against Colorado State.
More on Colorado State:
- Film Room: Scouting Colorado State
- First Look: Colorado State Rams
- A closer look at Colorado State from someone who covers the team
- Podcast: The official Michigan-Colorado State preview pod
Q. Hunter, when you first initially looked at what Colorado State does, what impressed you? As you look deeper, what more have you learned?
HUNTER DICKINSON: On the forefront, knowing that they’ve got two really good players, you know, that are really kinda the head of their snake, and diving deeper into them, it’s a team that plays together.
They’re really good at cutting. That’s probably the biggest thing we have learned from them is their ability to make off-the-ball cuts and play as a team.
Q. You guys have not won more than three in a row this season, I believe. Why do you then believe that you’re capable of coming up with six straight wins to win this National Championship?
HUNTER DICKINSON: We’re due for it, I guess.
Q. (Away from mic.)
ELI BROOKS: Well, that’s a game-time decision. We have good players behind him. We have Frankie, we have Kobe, we have Dev. Just being able to trust the people throughout the year that have made sparks for us in the past and see how that goes.
Q. Mostly for Eli, but anyone, what have you seen from Frankie that we haven’t seen at practice over the last couple of weeks, couple months that shows he’s ready to step in and take on a bigger role?
ELI BROOKS: Just running the team, getting people in their spots. He’s grown in that area. Since DeVante’ has been playing so well — you guys haven’t seen that as much, but Frankie is a good leader at the point guard position, getting everybody in their spots. So it will be nice to see that.
Q. Hunter, how competitive is the Big Ten in terms of bigs versus bigs, and how do you think that prepares you for whatever big you will face?
HUNTER DICKINSON: Big Ten, it’s hard, especially for big men. The amounts of bigs we have — I don’t even want to name them all. I was thinking about it in my head, and I kept forgetting somebody who is really good.
So for me being able to do that and go against those bigs for an entire Big Ten season has definitely prepared me because you don’t have an off night in the Big Ten. You go against the best of the best every night. So that prepares you for no off nights, especially when you come to tournament time.
Q. David Roddy, if you could speak to what you’ve seen from him on the film. Watching highlights, he looks pretty good.
HUNTER DICKINSON: He’s definitely not a bad player for sure. Somebody that we kind of compared him to is like a Ron Harper type, a guy who is undersized but girthy and can somehow move his body like he does and somebody who is able to pick and pop and put it on the floor and score at all four levels, as Coach Martelli says.
So he’s somebody we will have to definitely stop if we want to win the game.
Q. Hunter, it’s fun watching you play, you get so into it, you talk. Phil Martelli said you could be a WWE villain if you wanted a second career. What was your reaction? Did you like that?
HUNTER DICKINSON: I could be a WWE villain if that came up to it. That’s how I play. I’m at my best and most engaged when I’m out there playing with energy and fire.
What’s what makes the game fun for me. That’s why I enjoy playing it.
Q. What about the things you are saying out there? You wouldn’t tell me, so I won’t follow up, but how do you get in the head of your opponent? What’s the attack? How do you do that?
HUNTER DICKINSON: I mean, sometimes it helps when you’re scoring because that always improves whatever you’re saying. For me, really I just talk to talk to myself. Whatever I’m saying is just to kind of motivate myself and make me play better, honestly.
Q. Eli, you have played point guard throughout your career and this season as well. When you are in that role and stretches, is there anything different about your mindset and what you try to accomplish compared to when you’re at the 2 guard spot?
ELI BROOKS: I think there is more communication between me and coach, getting the play to other people, that’s the only thing that changes. Making sure everybody is organized.
Q. You guys played last year in the NCAA Tournament. How much does going through that and that experience, does that help in terms of preparing for this moment?
ELI BROOKS: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it was a little different last year, not as many fans. I feel like Hunter got the experience of March Madness and all that entails. For myself, this is the fourth time I will be playing in it so having that experience and letting the guys know what to expect and how to prepare for each game, and the quick turn-arounds and the ups and downs is something I can provide.
HUNTER DICKINSON: Playing last year and getting a real feel for how crazy this tournament is. How much each game matters and how forty minutes from the start, your season can be over and you can go home. There is no more season, no more friendships and bonds and getting to see your teammates and your coaches every day. That’s pretty awakening when it happens, so for us trying to keep our season alive as much as we can and try to make the most out of it.
Q. As far as coming back to Indy, talked about it with Hunter after Selection Sunday, but is there a comfort level? The gym, where you are staying, things like that that could help on the court?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, yeah, we know the gym pretty well, but — I mean, yeah, I think that helps a little bit. We play the Big Ten Tournament here so we have a feel for the Court, the rims, but we’ve got to go out there and perform.
Q. Caleb, you and Moussa have played big roles for the team all season, but this is your first time in the NCAA Tournament. What have your teammates and coaches told you about managing the excitement that comes with this stage?
CALEB HOUSTON: Be ready, have fun. It’s basketball at the end of the day so I feel like the coaches as well as the senior leaders, Hunter another leader, DJ, Eli, they have prepared us, letting us know what it’s kind of like. So we’re just prepared going in and just play with confidence, you know what I mean.
Q. As you have dug into game film of Colorado State, what’s impressed you beyond what you initially saw?
COACH HOWARD: The first thing I would point out is they are a well-coached team. They do a good job offensively moving the ball, moving people from side-to-side, which means your defense, whoever they face will have a tough job defensively of making sure you keep guys in front.
Another thing that’s impressed me is Roddy, who is the head of the snake. Very competitive young man. Plays with a lot of energy and effort. Being undersized, I’m sure people have said, how I look at him, how he competes, he’s not undersized because of his toughness, the way he is able to get downhill to finish over top of lane. He’s also very physical, shoot the ball from the outside.
Stevens, another guy who has done well for them offensively, running the team, very quick, athletic, as well as strong, has length with him as well.
Those two guys, along with the others, I have been impressed with how they have competed in their conference. And it doesn’t surprise me, being in the Mountain West, one of the conferences that folks don’t talk about because of the fact they’re on the West Coast, but you look at San Diego State, Wyoming, others, it’s a competitive conference.
Q. We spoke to DeVante’ on Sunday. He was emotional about getting a chance to play in this tournament for the first time. Can you speak to his disappointment?
COACH HOWARD: He will not be able to suit up on Thursday. Unfortunately, it’s a bummer because here is a young man who has been a part of coastal Carolina, had a lot of success there. Now he has the opportunity to play at the University of Michigan and led our team. He’s also a big reason why we’re here.
What it is, at this moment, we’re going to monitor his health, pray that he gets healthy. But overall I love how his teammates are going to be there to stand up and play hard for him
Q. Coach, if you look at this tournament field, in addition to yourself, you have Penny Hardaway, Hubert Davis, coaches who are at their alma maters, who hadn’t been head coaches before, Kenny Payne, a candidate at Louisville. I wonder if you think that the experience knowing the program the way you do helps offset that lack of head coaching experience for you?
COACH HOWARD: I’m happy to be a part of a school that has helped mold me to the man I am today. A great academic school, a great alumni base.
The thing of being a student-athlete at Michigan, it was some precious, fun years. So when you look at a guy like myself and Penny and others, like you mentioned, these are dream jobs for us because we remember being that student and going to class and getting to experience that college atmosphere.
And then you come back, and your experience, now you are able to teach and give back to other young men. I think it’s just — it’s a special icing on the cake. I look at it as I’m blessed. It’s fun that I get an opportunity to do something I love doing.
Q. I’m curious what you took away from the time away those last couple games of the season after the suspension, and as a follow, what kind of a resource Phil Martelli has been for you, not just in that period, since he’s gotten here?
COACH HOWARD: Excellent question. When you step away, you get a chance to reevaluate yourself and also what you can do to improve, because I’m always built on a growth mindset, how I can help prepare our guys, what can we do better as a group, and watching film and going back to old games and also looking at the games that are being played and seeing where there can be growth, I think we’re truly 1% better.
I trust the staff that I put together, before I got the job, understanding where my weaknesses are and seeing how we can cover up those weaknesses and band together as one of the best coaching staffs in the country to provide for our student-athletes and also represent the University of Michigan, Phil Martelli was a no-brainer. I did my homework slowly and took my time.
When I saw Coach coaching those five games and the support staff, it was no surprise because we’ve always talked about the next man up, and they were ready. Coach Martelli has done it for so many years and also coached big games, been in the tournament, coached big games. He knows how to manage a game. It wasn’t his first rodeo.
Q. Juwan, how did DeVante’ suffer the concussion? And if Frankie is a guy that gets more minutes, what type of growth have you seen from him this season?
COACH HOWARD: When you go out and practice, competitive practices, where guys are competing, an advertent elbow as you drive into the lane, he got elbowed in the nose area. And looking at it day by day. I’m sure he’s going to be healthy soon, take his time. We’re not trying to rush him back. We want him 100% healthy, DeVante’.
Next man up. Frankie is going to get an opportunity, so will Kobe and Eli. So we have a very good, balanced backcourt that’s able to step in and do whatever they can to help the team compete at a high level.
Q. Juwan, do you have to change things schematically with DeVante’ out, or is it next man up, plug-and-play type deal?
COACH HOWARD: Next man up. What we focus on is, yes, how we can prepare to go out there and compete and play some winning basketball, but defensively there is going to be a focus as well as far as how can we get stops versus Colorado State, a team that’s capable of putting up high numbers offensively.
So we have to make sure we manage the game, also looking at it as far as taking care of the basketball and then defensively limiting them to one-shot opportunities.
Q. Coach, you played in the NBA, you played against some of the best trash talkers of all time, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan. Where does Hunter rank among the trash talk? He talks a lot of trash out there?
COACH HOWARD: I don’t get into ranking guys as far as trash talkers, but you’re right, in the NBA, you left out one guy, and no disrespect, but Garnett, Gary Payton, those guys are all Hall of Famers, that you mention. I wish I had a chance to play against Larry Bird because I heard he was one of the best there was, but they have ways to back it up. Speaks for itself on the floor.
Hunter, I am a type of coach that allows him to express himself. It a very competitive ball game, and when you express yourself, you express yourself within the guidelines of the game, where it’s not disrespecting opposing coaches as well as opposing players.
He’s a guy that like all players, when they shoot a shot and they make it, they like to celebrate it. They make a dunk, they show emotion. Basketball is a very emotional and competitive game.
Q. Juwan, one more thing on the last couple of games of the regular season. You mentioned things that you reflected on and tried to get better at. What were some of those things? How difficult was that period, and how much did that help you knowing you had this and the conference tournament ahead of you?
COACH HOWARD: Let’s look at it like this. I did not break my TV. I may have broken a remote, but at the same time I tossed and turned in bed, and my pillow was wet.
Q. Juwan, curious, do you see your group’s NCAA Tournament experience as an advantage going into this game? Obviously Colorado State hasn’t played in this environment in quite some time.
COACH HOWARD: This time of year every team that’s a part of the NCAA Tournament have earned the right to be here, and there is no guarantee whether you have the experience or not that you are guaranteed that victory that particular game.
For forty minutes, that’s the critical moment as far as you get involved in the competition and each team is prepared and preparing for one another, and you’re going to go out there and compete for forty minutes and see what happens from there. Our goal is to try to get one point higher than our opponent.
Q. Coach, you guys haven’t won more than three games in a row this season. How do you get your guys into believing they can win six?
COACH HOWARD: One game at a time. Look, you don’t ever look far ahead. You look at the opponent, Colorado State. That’s who we are focused on, one game at a time.
Last year BJJ was next man up. Who will it be this year ? Stay tuned and “GO BLUE”!