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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A large crowd filled the Junge Family Champions Center on Tuesday afternoon as former Florida Atlantic head coach Dusty May was formally introduced as Michigan‘s successor to Juwan Howard, who was fired earlier this month after five seasons in charge of his alma mater. There were media members from outlets across the state and representatives of the Wolverines’ student section bedecked in game day attire. There were leftover members of Howard’s staff and a smattering of head coaches from other sports across the campus, including newly minted football coach Sherrone Moore.

Noticeably absent, however, was anything resembling a roster. Will Tschetter, Jace Howard (the son of Juwan Howard) and George Washington III appeared to be the only basketball players in attendance, with the latter having already entered the transfer portal. The arresting truth is that there really wasn’t anyone else who could have joined them — such is the state of Michigan’s program after the 2023-24 season thudded to a halt with an overall record of 8-24 and a 3-17 mark in conference play. No team in program history had lost more games in a single year.

An exodus soon followed: Howard was fired on March 15; the program’s best recruit, four-star prospect Khani Rooths, decommitted from Michigan on March 18; four players entered the transfer portal by March 20, headlined by point guard and leading scorer Dug McDaniel (16.3 points, 4.7 assists per game). There are scenarios where the Wolverines could have as many as 10 open scholarships in the coming weeks, if not more, depending on which players choose to stay and which players May wants to keep.

“We have a lot of work to do with roster development and roster construction,” May said. “It’s too early to be specific right now because I don’t know what all of them are thinking.”

Time and again, the 47-year-old May uttered different versions of that response during his introductory news conference when reporters peppered him with questions about both his short- and long-term plans to rebuild Michigan, a program that reached the Final Four as recently as 2018 but now feels lightyears removed from anything of the sort. One of the biggest challenges May faces is how to cobble together a roster that can be competitive next season without compromising the year-over-year growth he’s aiming to achieve. That’s a very narrow needle to thread.

It’s likely that May was more forthcoming during an in-person interview with the Michigan contingent that flew to Fort Lauderdale the day after Florida Atlantic lost in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last week. Manuel, who also spoke at Tuesday’s event, told reporters that May had been his No. 1 target since the search began in earnest last week. The two sides reached an agreement fewer than 24 hours after the Owls’ plane landed in Florida following a heartbreaking defeat to Northwestern. Soon after, May signed a five-year contract worth a reported $3.75 million per year.

“I don’t know how many people we called all together to talk about Dusty and get some information,” Manuel said. “Normally in every search I’ve ever conducted, you hear something negative. Some issue arose, somebody didn’t think he handled it right, or they didn’t think they handled this student-athlete right or this team right. Nothing. Everything was positive.”

With so much about Michigan’s immediate future still unclear, May spent the majority of his news conference outlining an overall vision for the program, which he said should resume competing for Big Ten championships and national championships.

He explained his recruiting strategy as an adaptable formula that will include everything from high school prospects and transfer portal signees to junior college recruits and players from overseas. He described his involvement in NIL and fundraising efforts as a significant part of the job that will occupy anywhere from “25% to 30% of my time.” He summarized his preferred brand of basketball as an up-tempo and analytically-driven offense with an innovative and unpredictable defense, the totality of which should be easy on the eyes because, in May’s words, “We also want to put fans in the seats.” It’s a goal that will require significant effort after back-to-back ugly seasons.

“When you watch us play,” May said, “you should see teamwork, you should see efficiency on both sides of the basketball. Our identity will be teamwork, passion and togetherness. The details will work themselves out. We’ll figure that out later. Watching Michigan basketball will be enjoyable.”

And it’s a goal May said he intends to accomplish immediately, in Year 1, even without knowing what type of roster he’ll be coaching come November. He bristled when asked about striking a balance between fielding a competitive team in his debut season, which would likely require an influx of graduate transfers and other veterans with dwindling eligibility, and using the 2024-25 campaign as an incubator for what he wants the program to become over time. The idea of limping through his first year as little more than a Big Ten doormat was a notion May refused to even consider.

But the details of how he plans to avoid that fate were scarce when May was asked about it in a variety of ways on Tuesday afternoon. May admitted that he doesn’t have all the answers just yet. How well he threads the needle in the coming months will be a harbinger for his long-term success.

“There won’t be a point where we just throw in the towel and say, ‘We’re not going to be competitive this year because it’s Year 1,'” May said. “We want to win, and we want to be able to sell that going forward.”

 Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.


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