Dusty May on recruiting strategy, NIL, and the transfer portal

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The biggest issue for former Michigan basketball head coach Juwan Howard came on the court, but it certainly could have gone down a much different path for the Fab Five star.

Howard came to Ann Arbor after a long NBA playing and coaching career and vowed to hit the ground running in terms of recruiting. It started out great, but during his tenure, multiple variables came into play: name, image, and likeness, as well as the transfer portal.

He tried to manage both as best he could, perhaps better than any of his predecessors may have, but there were several wrenches thrown into the equation.

The biggest loss was star center Hunter Dickinson choosing to transfer to Kansas this past offseason with NIL being a primary motivating factor in his departure. Though the recruiting classes looked good on paper, not all of them matriculated into college. Papa Kante, a four-star center, never made it to campus as he couldn’t clear admissions. Two transfer targets — Terrance Shannon Jr. and Caleb Love — played elsewhere for the same reason. All of these things happened in one calendar offseason, and thus, Michigan struggled without all that expected talent on campus.

The first order of business for new head coach Dusty May is to hit the recruiting trail. The Wolverines already had a decommit in four-star Khani Rooths, though he’s still considering the maize and blue. Knowing that he’d prefer to build his roster through recruiting younger talent rather than relying on the transfer portal, what May has to do is lure prospects to Ann Arbor and convince them that Michigan is the best place for them.

“There’s a lot to sell to get them here at Michigan,” May said. “As far as top 10, top 20, we’re going to chase the best players we can. And typically, the best players want to get better. Our job is to help them improve and be the best they can be. And if they believe you can, then you’re going to have a shot at it. And we’re in an unbelievable conference with everything accessible for improvement. There’s no reason why we wouldn’t get the best, chase the best players in the country. But we have,  — once again, we trust our eyes, and we’re going to find the best players for us. But there’s not going to be a guy that is ready for this that we’re not going to go after because of that ranking.”

That’s all good and well, but with NIL being the newest variable in the equation, we’re seeing what’s tantamount to pay-for-play taking over college athletics. And Michigan, though evolving, has been behind a lot of other schools — especially in basketball.

When hired on Saturday, May met with athletic director Warde Manuel, who shared the newfound vision for the maize and blue. Michigan recently announced a partnership with Learfield and Altius to bolster NIL efforts but May isn’t satisfied with letting things play out. During the interview process, May says that NIL was brought up and that he fully intends on rolling up his sleeves and finding ways to get on the cutting edge, so that Michigan’s traditional ‘transformational, not transactional’ stance doesn’t inhibit the product on the court.

“It’s more of just where we are, where do we think we can get to,” May said. “And I volunteered information that I look at myself as a partner in that. And I’m eager to help and do whatever we can. But absolutely, they came up several times and they’re ongoing. And yeah, we like the direction we’re going in.”

Now, let’s assume that recruiting and NIL both work out — there’s also the issue of the transfer portal.

In today’s day and age, you have to be able to go out and get those top-flight players who are leaving other schools. For May, he’s going to have to do so because, as of right this second, he has three scholarship players to work with. But he also doesn’t want to end up like Howard did last offseason, unable to bring in top players while also losing his star at the same time.

Considering admissions has often been an inhibitor, May says the most important thing is understanding what you’re working with and planning accordingly.

“There’s an academic mission of a university that’s never going to change and our job as coaches is to find student-athletes that match and value that mission, as well,” May said. “And sometimes it’s more, it’s just like the little things. Social media takes off and becomes a narrative and then it’s impossible to respond to or even counter. So, to answer the question, we’ll be very thorough, we’ll do our homework as much as possible and try to find the best guys for us.”

As for the portal, May says it’s important to not rush things, even if the process tries to rush things for you.

Though his Wolverines will have to be very aggressive on that front in year one, especially if he wants to compete, he’s not going to take flyers on players who might not be the best program fits. Yet, his plan is to, as he says, ‘cast a big net,’ and hope that they can find some players who can be both productive as well as model Michigan Wolverines.

“Recruiting now in the portal is more like speed dating than the traditional recruiting,” May said. “And I think it’s very, very valuable to have a network of people that you trust, and they trust you. And hopefully, between former players and former coaches, our programs, we have thousands of agents working for us — when I say agents, people that are going to say great things about us and what players play for us. So we’re going to cast a big net, we’ll narrow down, we’ll be very patient because we’re not going to take the wrong guys because we have several spots. We’ll be very thorough but understand that we need to be right. We need to do our research in advance and make sure we make very calculated decisions because there’s a lot of options. And they’re not all great options.”

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire