By Jordan Gillenwater
It all started with Howard aiding the Fab Five, which was the 1991 Michigan Wolverine’s basketball team to become the first NCAA team in history to compete in the championship game with all-freshman starters. Now, Howard became the head coach of his alma mater and won the AP college coach of the year.
With already having a fruitful nineteen seasons in the NBA under his belt, including two NBA championships, Howard worked with the Miami Heat, spending six years there as an assistant coach. In Howard’s inaugural season as head coach, the Wolverine’s went 19-12 in an unusual campaign, with March Madness being canceled as a result of COVID-19. In his second season, this is where Howard’s program took off.
The Wolverines were ranked as high as No.2 in the AP polls and finished No.4 after having a spectacular 19-3 regular season and 23-5 overall. When starting forward Isaiah Livers went out with a foot injury during the Big Ten tournament, the season looked like it would be prematurely over, but Howard kept his team strong heading into the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines made it to the Elite Eight until unfortunately losing to the UCLA Bruins 51-49 in a tightly contested game.
Howard’s players have a tremendous amount of respect for him. “He’s a high-character dude who treats everybody like family, so to be able to see someone like that succeed when a lot of people doubted him- he put his name up there,” Michigan senior guard Eli Brooks said. “It’s fun to play for Juwan and he’s a great guy, so I’m happy for him.”
Fifth-year senior guard Mike Smith had this to say about Howard’s authenticity. “He’s a player’s coach. You [can kind of] could tell that when he was recruiting me. He wants the best for each and every one of us… He pushes us each and every day to the standard that he feels we all should be at.”
Former Fab Five teammate and NBA player Jalen Rose also has high praise for Howard. “I’d rather have Juwan running the program more than anyone else,” Rose said. “What Juwan is doing is next level…Because he has the player experience and he has the coaching experience. So now when he comes into your locker room, or when he comes into your living room, it sounds different to the players. It sounds different to the families.”
Howard has proven so far in his two-year stint that he is equipped to coach in the long run. The Wolverines are poised for a dominant come back for the 2021-22 season. Freshman center Hunter Dickinson and sophomore guard Franz Wagner are set to return, two of the key players to the program. Two five-star recruits in forward Caleb Houstan and forward Moussa Diabate are signed and are ready to ascend the team to a deeper tournament run. Also, it is fortunate to note is that seniors are now eligible to return next season at their discretion due to the impact of COVID-19.
Howard will continue to silence critics. He has shown that he can recruit top players when that was a doubt. There is a long list of former NBA players that turned to coaches that severely disappointed. Howard is making sure that he will not become another statistic of the same fate.