Michigan transfers Chaundee Brown, Mike Smith makes first impression
ANN ARBOR – Juwan Howard’s eye for talent apparently isn’t limited to high school players. He dipped his toes in the transfer pool this summer and oh, isn’t that water nice?
The two acquisitions of Michigan veterans, Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith, were Michigan’s top performers in the 96-82 season opener win over Bowling Green.
“We knew we wanted to come and help this team,” Brown said. “They were really good last year. (We) thought, we have to come in, play our game, be aggressive.
Smith started out as the point guard, a tough job for the 5-foot-11 scoring machine (6-foot-3 if you count her hair). Zavier Simpson had held the post for the past two seasons, leaving his mark in the program’s record books and on Wolverines culture.
Smith is not Simpson. He’s a different player, and that’s okay, as long as the rest of the Wolverines adjust. On Wednesday, the transition went smoothly. From the start, Smith showed great vision and skill with a one-handed cross pass to Isaiah Livers for a 3. Smith buried a 3 of his own a minute later.
During the past offseason, Howard knew he would have to replace Simpson. The obvious choice, David DeJulius, was transferred out of the program. And so he scanned the transfer portal, watching the movie of the potential additions. “I trust my eyes,” he said.
Smith averaged 22.8 points as a senior at Columbia last season. But it was the Ivy League. Smith’s size may have turned off some suitors. Would he be able to see and shoot taller, longer defenders? Could he hold on defensively?
“People can get lost” thinking about Smith’s stature, Howard said. “It helped him gain the advantage – a lot of people ruled him out because he’s short. A guy like him says, “I’m going to prove you wrong.”
For at least one game, albeit against a school MAC, Smith shone. He scored 16 points and eight assists with just one turnover.
“He will often have the ball in his hands, with the chance to make plays for himself and for others,” said Howard. “I hope he plays the right game.”
Brown left the bench after starting the last three years at Wake Forest.
“Coach Howard told me he needed me to get off the bench and inspire the second group and the first group like I did in practice,” said Brown.
In each half, he introduced himself to the shooting guard, along with first-year center Hunter Dickinson, after about six minutes of action.
With one minute, the 6-foot-5 Brown had blocked a shot. He caught fire in the second half, making five 3s en route to a peak of 19 points. He added four rebounds in three assists.
“I knew with the offense Michigan is leading I had to be able to shoot the ball a lot better than I did last year,” Brown said.
“He gave us a big spark,” Howard said before considering his summer acquisition. “I went out and I got it. When I saw that he had reached the transfer portal, I jumped on it right away because I knew he was going to help us.
Bowling Green head coach Michael Huger said he spotted Brown’s games at Wake Forest in order to prepare for Wednesday, but he didn’t expect Brown to shoot so well from the outside. As for Smith, Huger was impressed with his dribbling penetration. “He’s broken us time and time again,” Huger said.
Factor in Dickinson’s 11 points and eight rebounds and the newcomers from Michigan made the first impression.
Smith and Brown have played seven college seasons combined and have never come close to a winning season or reaching the NCAA tournament. They chose Michigan for a variety of reasons, but the opportunity to play for a winner was the main one.
When asked, in essence, what it was like to have such talented teammates, Brown smiled.
“I’m just happy to be here,” he said, a thought echoed by Smith in previous interviews. And Michigan is grateful to have them.