“This was a great learning year for me,” Howard told ESPN. “It’s what I needed. It taught me how to play within a pro-style offense and be effective, to get out of my comfort zone, and play with other good players.”
Howard, the No. 16 prospect in ESPN’s NBA draft rankings, is rehabbing ankle injuries he suffered in both feet in Big Ten play, the extent of which wasn’t publicly known until the end of the season, when Michigan elected to sit him for its two NIT games after consultation with an ankle specialist.
“I’ve had both ankles nagging for a while, so my dad and the coaching staff agreed with the specialist that it’s better for me to get to 100%,” Howard said. “I was only 50-60% for most of the Big Ten. My dad (Juwan Howard) being the coach, he is was looking out for me and wanted the best for my health. He understands that ankles are tricky. I met with a specialist after the Big Ten tournament and they wanted me to rehab for four to five weeks. Thank God it doesn’t require surgery or anything like that.”
Howard nevertheless had an outstanding freshman season, finishing as Michigan’s second-leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, earning All-Big Ten third-team honors and being named to the conference’s all-freshman team. He was looking like a potential top-10 pick in January upon scoring 34 points on 7-for-13 shooting from beyond the arc at Iowa prior to his injuries.
“I didn’t know how much time I would have at Michigan, so I wanted to make the most of it,” Howard said. “It was a unique situation here with my brother [Jace] and dad. I didn’t want to take this time for granted, which meant playing through injuries. My thought process was if I could do something out there to impact the game, if I could help my team win a few more games and make the NCAA tournament, I was going to do that.”
Howard says he relished playing for his father, Juwan Howard, a former NBA All-Star and two-time NBA champion who won Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2021 after taking Michigan to the Elite Eight.
“Playing for my dad was a beautiful experience,” Howard said. “It was a little rough at first, as he wants things done a certain way, but overall it was easy playing in his offense. He’s a fun person to be around on a day-to-day basis.”
Howard says his father didn’t put any pressure on him to stay at Michigan another year, which made his decision to leave for the NBA much easier.
“He said it without saying it; it might be time for you to go,” Howard said. “This was easy, for him to let go. He asked around and came to the consensus that I should leave.”
Howard was not initially projected as a one-and-done-type recruit, being ranked the No. 41 prospect in his high school class, but he quickly exceeded expectations, scoring 21 points (5-for-10 from 3-point) and dishing out five assists in his first game at Michigan.
“I had to earn my spot to start, but I’ve never had this much freedom to show off my talent,” Howard said. “This team needed my scoring and playmaking. Before the season it was my goal to be one-and-done.”
Standing 6-foot-8 with a versatile skill set as a dynamic shot-maker who has the ability to create offense for himself and others out of dribble handoffs or pick-and-roll, the 19-year-old Howard fits a prototype for what NBA scouts are looking for as a big guard who can play multiple positions and score from all over the floor.
Howard is expected to make a full recovery in time to conduct workouts with NBA teams picking in the lottery.
The NBA draft combine will be held May 15-21 in Chicago, and the draft will be June 22 in Brooklyn, New York.
— Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.