When Michigan coach Juwan Howard started off practice last Friday, he told the team he received some good news that had made his day.
Howard said he was excited to welcome a player into the fold, and senior guard Chaundee Brown initially thought he was talking about five-star forward Caleb Houstan, who had committed to Michigan earlier that morning.
As Howard continued to speak, he implied he had also gotten some bad news from the compliance department and made Brown momentarily think he’d have to sit out this year.
“I was nervous, everyone was nervous because he made it seem like I didn’t get my waiver and it kept getting denied,” Brown said Monday. “We were all nervous because we thought I didn’t get it at first.”
Chaundee Brown (23), a Wake Forest transfer, had his waiver granted on Friday and will be eligible to play for Michigan this season. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press)
That anxiety quickly turned into elation as Howard was simply messing with Brown and pulled a 180, informing him his waiver had been granted from the NCAA and he would be immediately eligible to play this season.
The news trigged a celebration that led to Brown getting mobbed by his teammates, and capped a winding process that started when Brown announced his intentions to leave Wake Forest on April 15, committed to Michigan on May 19 and officially joined the program on June 24.
“It was great feeling,” Brown said. “I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. I’ve just been frustrated for a while because I didn’t know what position I was typically in, if I was in the position to play this year or if I was in the position to push my teammates to get better each day (if sitting out).
“I just stayed prayed up and I knew something good was going to happen. A year or two years here, I knew I would enjoy it.”
But not only was last week’s announcement uplifting for Brown, it was a boon that helped raise the Wolverines’ ceiling for this season. As a rugged defender, a proven scorer and a veteran player, he’s an asset who figures to play a key role in the rotation.
During his three years at Wake Forest, Brown was a staple in the starting lineup and averaged 10.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists over 84 games. He turned in his most productive year with the Demon Deacons last season, averaging a career-high 12.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 23 games — despite dealing with ankle and calf injuries.
He also shot a career-best 45.6% from the field but a career-low 32.2% from 3-point range as a junior. However, Brown noted the latter mark like isn’t indicative of the shooter he is since he struggled to get into a rhythm while playing half a season through “nicks, pains” and a torn calf muscle.
Even though he’s adjusting on the fly to a different offense, a different defense and a different coaching style, Brown is focused on sticking to his strengths and playing his part to make this season a success.
“I can see myself helping this team this year just by playing my game,” Brown said. “Coach Howard recruited me because he liked my game, so there’s no need to change it. I’ve just got to be the player I am on the defensive end getting stops, being vocal, talking, helping the younger guys out, getting into the lane, getting fouled like I’m really good at, shooting the open 3 and one-dribble pull-ups, and just leading by example on the court and off the court.”
Brown has been playing at the two and three positions in preseason practices. He noted he, senior forward Isaiah Livers and sophomore wing Franz Wagner have all been sharing tips and tweaks to improve one another’s game, whether it’s getting to spots faster or getting a shot off quicker.
Last month, Livers called Brown “outstandingly strong” and said he’s a good cutter off the ball, an underrated aspect of his game Livers didn’t notice when watching his Wake Forest highlights from last season.
Brown added he’s put an emphasis on bettering his ball-handling, a piece of feedback he received from NBA teams this offseason and an area he might get to put on display more with ball-dominant guard Zavier Simpson gone.
“That’s something that I need to really work on and coming off ball screens, as well, making the right decision, making the right play, not forcing it, just hitting the guy in the open spots,” Brown said. “We have so much talent on this team that I don’t have to force anything — just make the right play and be smart.”
While Brown couldn’t take an official visit to Ann Arbor or meet the Michigan coaching staff and his new teammates in person before committing over the summer, he said everything has lived up to his expectations.
In fact, Brown pointed out former Wolverine and fellow Florida native Colin Castleton helped sell him on Michigan and Howard’s pitch. Brown said he and Castleton are good friends and Castleton “had nothing bad to say” about Michigan, even after transferring to Florida in late April.
“Since I’ve got to Ann Arbor, I’ve been enjoying all my teammates. It’s really a family here,” said Brown, who added he’s “never been on a team this connected before.”
“That’s what Coach Howard touched on during my Zoom call I had with him months ago before I committed, that it was a family here. Everyone in the locker room gets along well. We’re laughing, giggling, everything like that. I’ve never had a team like this. They’re just so close and everybody gets along. I’m happy to be a part of this team.”
And, not to mention, relieved that he finally knows he’ll be able to suit up instead of sit out.
“To win a national championship, to win a Big Ten title, you need a lot of pieces,” Brown said. “Knock on wood but some injuries are going to happen during the year. It always happens every year so having that next man up is key. We know that can be anybody on our team that can step up and give some big minutes.”