By Ryan Houlihan – May 28th, 2020
It is safe to say that this offseason has not gone as planned for Michigan Basketball head coach Juwan Howard. After being bamboozled by five-star guard Josh Christopher, who chose Arizona State over Michigan, and losing the commitment of five-star forward Isaiah Todd to the pros, the Wolverines received more disappointing news.
Freshman guard Cole Bajema entered his name into the transfer portal, becoming the third player to do so this offseason. Back in April, sophomores David DeJulius and Colin Castleton entered the portal. All three were recruits of former Michigan head coach John Beilein.
Bajema was Beilein’s last recruit before he departed Michigan for an NBA head coaching gig with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After being relatively unknown and left out of most recruiting sites, Bajema burst onto the scene with strong summer performances at Michigan’s camp in June of 2018 and then on the AAU circuit later that July.
Power Five schools like Virginia and Xavier began to offer, but the Washington native was quick to pull the trigger once Beilein extended his offer. Michigan had been a dream destination for Bajema, who honored his commitment after Howard took over as head coach. With a sweet shooting stroke and impressive size and length at 6’7”, Bajema looked like a steal for the Wolverines.
Bajema failed to crack the rotation throughout the 2019-2020 season, appearing in just nine games and playing a total of 37 minutes. Although he saw limited action, Bajema made the most out of his time, going 10-13 on his field goals (4-7 from three). His efficiency made fans wonder why he was not taking more minutes from sophomore Adrian Nuñez, who shot just 30% on his field goals and 26% from deep.
When asked back in January why Bajema was not playing more, Howard was candid, saying “You’re speaking to a guy who was a freshman back in the day. I played right away. Jalen (Rose) played right away. Chris (Webber) played right away. That was because I guess Coach felt and trusted that we were ready to go. You definitely have to earn your playing time in practice.”
Bajema was sure to receive meaningful minutes off the bench next season with Michigan’s shaky backcourt situation, but he informed Howard of his decision to transfer via call. Roger DeBoer, Bajema’s high school coach, told MLive in an interview that Bajema loved his time at Michigan, but he felt it was best to move on to play elsewhere. DeBoer also said that there had been no prior one-on-one conversations in the last month between Howard and Bajema until the call.
Bajema’s departure opens up a second scholarship spot for Michigan in the upcoming 2020-2021 season. While the possibility remains for Howard to pursue an uncommitted 2020 recruit or flip an already committed one, chances are he will be active on the transfer market to fill the spots. Howard now has some work to do on the recruiting trail.
*See chart below for Michigan’s 2020-2021 scholarship situation and beyond*