Howard’s hiring will bring the soul back to Michigan basketball.
Michigan Basketball finally feels like Michigan Basketball again.
And while we’re still six months away from the start of the college basketball season, the hiring of Juwan Howard as the Wolverines’ new head coach has the potential to be something special.
Dave Strack, Johnny Orr, Bill Frieder, Steve Fisher, Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker all recruited the state of Michigan.
John Beilein did not.
And while I understand that Beilein is the most successful, and winningest coach, in program history, he was not the best. That label still belongs to Fisher, the man that coached the Wolverines to their only national championship in program history. Because as good as Beilein was at his job in his time at Michigan, winning 278 games and making two Final Four appearances, the culture around the program was just different.
Crisler Arena felt gentrified.
The place that Cazzie Russell built, that was cathedral-like during the Fab Five days, wasn’t the same under Beilein. There wasn’t a single McDonald’s All-American that played on Michigan’s roster during Beilein’s tenure, as players from Saginaw, Flint, Pontiac and Detroit were missing from the program.
Beilein whiffed on homegrown products like Kyle Kuzma, James Young, Josh Jackson, Devin Booker, Monte Morris, Brian Bowen Jr., Eric Davis Jr. and Brad Redford. In fact, the only top player he was able to sign in his tenure was Detroit’s Derrick Walton Jr., whom he targeted ahead of Morris. Walton is playing overseas while Morris averaged 16 minutes per game this season for the Denver Nuggets, who were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
I have a feeling that will change with Howard in control, similar to how Penny Hardaway brought the flavor back to the University of Memphis’ basketball program. Hardaway currently has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country after only one year on the bench at his alma mater, and it’s a roster full of hometown Memphis natives. That’s something that former Memphis coach Tubby Smith couldn’t do, after his predecessors Josh Pastner and John Calipari were able to get it done every season.
“He is going back to a school and a conference in which he is revered. I think it is a great step forward for him and the university, and I wish him nothing but the best, because it’s what he’s given us,” said Miami Heat president Pat Riley in a team statement.
“Juwan is an absolute star as a person, player, and coach. I feel he is more than ready. He is a terrific leader and mentor, which translates very well to the collegiate level,” said Howard’s former coach and boss, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Along with Hardaway at Memphis, who was 22-14 in his first season, Howard will join Patrick Ewing (Georgetown) and Chris Mullin (St. John’s) as players who have returned to coach at their alma maters in the last five years. In two seasons, Ewing has complied a 34-29 record, while Mullin was 59-73 in his four-year tenure.
But history isn’t necessarily on Howard’s side.
Guys like Avery Johnson (Alabama), Sidney Lowe (N.C. State), Mike Dunleavy (Tulane), Eddie Jordan (Rutgers) and Clyde Drexler (Houston) have all been NBA guys that have tried their hand at being a college head coach with very little, or sometimes zero, experience on the collegiate level. And that lack of experience sometimes revealed itself in their coaching records or program’s reputation during their tenure.
This is why the microscope will be on Howard, Hardaway and a guy like Jerry Stackhouse, who recently signed on to be the head coach at Vanderbilt without having any college coaching experience on his resume.
However, Howard has something these coaches don’t, which is the support and love of the most transcendent team in college basketball history, the Fab Five.
“It squashes any drama or any beef because we’re not going to bring that to Ann Arbor’s campus with Juwan Howard as our head coach,” said Jalen Rose on Thursday morning’s edition of ESPN’s “Get Up.”
“The one thing that we both know is that his success turning around the University of Michigan, is first and foremost about him, and about the players he’s going to influence. Then it’s about us being there to support him. Not bringing drama, not being splintered, not giving any indication of dysfunction. We’re going to move as a family and we’re going to do what we can to build on what John Beilein has helped establish in Ann Arbor.”
Howard is about to do something that many of us thought was doomed forever, and that’s the reconciliation of the Fab Five. The fractured relationships between Rose and Chris Webber, and between the Five and the university has played a major role in why things have been the way they’ve been.
Taking down banners and trying to distance yourself from the group that made your program culturally relevant is never a good move.
But what was wrong has now been made right.
Juwan Howard is bringing the Fab Five back home, and with that, the return of Michigan Basketball’s soul.