Michigan basketball’s two transfers show their worth in sparking season-opening win

Juwan Howard paid a lot of attention to the transfer portal in the offseason.

He kept track of who entered their name into the portal. He watched film of players who could potentially help his team. In the end, he added two players via transfer.

And that decision already looks to be paying off for Howard and Michigan basketball.

The Wolverines’ season-opening 96-82 win over Bowling Green on Wednesday was fueled by significant contributions from two players who, last season, were playing in the Ivy League and ACC.

Point guard Mike Smith (Columbia) had 14 points and eight assists, and wing Chaundee Brown (Wake Forest) scored a team-high 19 points and made five 3s in the second half.

[ For Michigan basketball, these are the best- and worst-case scenarios ]

“Oh, he gave us a big spark, man,” Howard said of Brown. “I went out and got him. When I saw he was in the transfer portal, I jumped on it right away, because I knew he was going to help us.”

On a per-minute basis, Brown was the most impactful player on the floor. In 20 minutes, he scored 19 points on 6 of 8 shooting, adding four rebounds, three assists and one block. He meshed with a number of lineups as the team’s sixth man, and fit in well on offense by spacing the floor. And he made good on his words from a couple weeks ago, when he said he was a better shooter than his 31% 3-point shooting percentage from last season indicated.

After three seasons at Wake Forest, Brown found himself in a different offense after transferring to Michigan. The transition was “hard” and required meeting with assistant coach Saddi Washington once a week to go over the team’s sets and plays. The work continues — Brown looks over the playbook every day, “20-30 minutes” before he goes to sleep — but against Bowling Green, he looked comfortable within the ball-screen heavy attack. And he looked comfortable coming off the bench, too.

“It’s a different role for me,” Brown said. “I started three years at Wake Forest and held my own, but Coach Howard came to me and told me he needs me to come off the bench, and inspire the second group and inspire the first group like I have been at practice, being active.

“I started it on the defensive end today. And I feel like I started it in practice on the defensive end, making the opponent with the ball in front of me uncomfortable, making them feel like they’re about to give it up. Just come off the bench bring a lot of energy and intensity, and I feel like I did that today. So just gotta keep it up.”

Michigan guard Mike Smith drives to basket during the first half of the season opener against Bowling Green at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.Michigan guard Mike Smith drives to basket during the first half of the season opener against Bowling Green at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.
Michigan guard Mike Smith drives to basket during the first half of the season opener against Bowling Green at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.

Meanwhile, Smith established himself as the heir apparent to Zavier Simpson at point guard, handing out two of his eight assists to Brown (both were made 3s in the second half). Smith wasn’t the biggest player on the court — he is listed at 5 feet 11, and that might be aided by his hair — but he darted around screens to find open shooters, and beat defenders to the rim. Smith was Michigan’s most efficient player, scoring 14 points on six shots and making 7 of 8 free throws. He had zero turnovers.

It was as good of a debut as the Wolverines could have asked for.

“Mike was big for us,” Howard said. “Mike is gonna have the ball in his hands a lot, and he’s gonna have opportunities to make plays for himself and for others. With his high basketball IQ, I trust that he’s gonna make the right play to put us in the best position to give us an opportunity to either score or someone else score.

“I’m not surprised how his transition has been so smooth because of his personality. Hearing him in the locker room, watching him in practice, guys love Mike. I will say this, if you don’t like Mike, something’s wrong with you. He just has that bubbly personality. And his hair, I guess it can be attractive as well.”

Michigan's Chaundee Brown (15) celebrates a 3-point basket against Bowling Green during the season opener at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.Michigan's Chaundee Brown (15) celebrates a 3-point basket against Bowling Green during the season opener at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.
Michigan’s Chaundee Brown (15) celebrates a 3-point basket against Bowling Green during the season opener at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.

It was Smith who found Brown for his fifth 3-pointer of the second half with 4:49 remaining, and after hitting the shot, Brown skipped down the floor in jubilation. It was exactly the type of performance he had envisioned when his waiver for immediate eligibility was granted by the NCAA at the end of October. And it was what Howard envisioned, when he recruited Brown and Smith.

“(Smith and I) knew that we wanted to come in and help this team,” Brown said. “They were really good last year. Just telling each other, we gotta come in, play our game, be aggressive. Coach Howard recruited us for a reason. He loved our game. Don’t need to switch that up — we know that we’re really good players. We just had to play our roles, and we did that today.”

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball’s two transfers lead the way against Bowling Green

Leave a Reply