Michigan Wolverines Basketball's Juwan Howard: ‘I’d Play Physical With My Grandma' To Win
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Michigan Basketball's Howard: ‘I’d Play Physical With My Grandma' To Win

Juwan Howard had one stop he knew he had to make after he accepted the Michigan head coaching job two years ago — to Florida State to see head coach Leonard Hamilton and his team. The two men had crossed paths in the NBA, where Howard took in everything the coach had to say in an effort to better himself as a player.

Hamilton, another of college basketball’s under-represented black coaches in the profession, welcomed Howard with open arms, and Howard hasn’t forgotten it heading into a Sweet 16 showdown with the fourth seeded Seminoles Sunday in Indianapolis

“Our relationship runs deep,” Howard said Thursday. “It goes back to the time I played for [then assistant-] coach Hamilton when I played for the Washington Wizards. The respect I have for him as a man, a father and also as a coach, obviously, during his time coaching the University of Miami as well as Florida State … he’s had amazing success. I feel he has a great knowledge just of the game of basketball, people, and his resume speaks for itself.

“Our conversations were very good. I learned a lot. I will continue to use Coach Hamilton as a mentor, a father figure, an example of what great, successful coaches look like on this collegiate level.”

Michigan Wolverines basketball coach Juwan Howard is good friends with FSU coach Leonard Hamilton.
Michigan Wolverines basketball coach Juwan Howard is good friends with FSU coach Leonard Hamilton. (AP Images)
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But he also wants to kick his butt … make no mistake. The same goes for 6-9 freshman Scottie Barnes, an FSU guard who grew up in Florida playing with Howard’s sons. They crossed paths on the AAU circuit a number of times, won a state championship together and been through the wars.

“We love Scottie, and of course admired his success thus far at FSU,” he said. “So proud of him.”

He’s essentially like family, Howard shared — and then he made it clear what that means in the heat of battle:

Absolutely nothing.

Friendships and relationships are set aside when games are on the line, and Howard didn’t hold back.

“If my grandmother was still living and she was playing basketball … I’m a very competitive individual. I’d play her one on one, and I’d be very physical with her,” Howard said. “When the game is over with, I’m going to embrace her, hug her, kiss her. That’s exactly how it goes in the game of basketball. Once the game starts, you’re locked into your opponent.

“I know they’re looking forward to going out there and competing [too]. They don’t care if it’s me or anyone else. They know that they have goals in front of them, and we have goals in front of us. We understand Florida state is looking forward to spoiling our goals and dreams. After the game is over with, we’ll embrace the brotherhood, camaraderie, friendship, family. Right now, it’s about the competition.”

Plenty of pundits picked the Wolverines to be the first No. 1 seed eliminated minus senior Isaiah Livers — Illinois got that dubious honor in losing to Loyola (Chicago) – and several expected the loss to come to FSU. The Wolverines enter with a lot of confidence after holding off a hot-shooting LSU team, and Howard seemed confident in his group’s ability Thursday against the bigger Seminoles.

There’s not a style they haven’t seen this year, Howard noted, and they’ve responded with wins in most games they played.

“We’ve faced a lot of different teams throughout the year, whether it’s non-conference or Big Ten play, leading up to postseason play,” he said. “All teams are different, but somewhat similar. It’s nothing new we’ve faced.

“They average 6-8 [length], the wingspan is pretty long, but you’ve still got to play the game no matter what. You’ve still got to compete, and we look forward to the competition. We’ll be ready to roll on Sunday.”

NOTES

• Seniors Chaundee Brown and Eli Brooks stepped up to lead the scoring with 21 points apiece in Livers’ absence, and they celebrated with him after the game as though they’d won it for their injured forward.

“The brotherhood is real. The culture is real,” Howard said. “When you have a family member that goes down with injury, everyone pulls together to help that particular player go through the experiences he’s going with, and it’s not easy. It’s very hard.

“On the floor, there are a lot of moments in practice see your team, what each guy provides to help the team in any way that impacts winning. We have a very deep roster. The next man up mentality, never to disrespect a player’s injury … it’s always to make it feel you’ve got your brother’s back.”

• The Wolverines took a day to cherish their hard-fought victory over LSU before getting back to work.

“At times when you win a game, normally you try to move on to the next game right away. I don’t want our guys to have that type of mindset,’ he said. “They worked extremely hard, competed from start to finish, played a very sell skilled, talented LSU group that played hard.”

• Howard refused comment on the Big Ten’s woes. Of nine teams in the tourney, U-M is the only one in the Sweet 16.

“I’ll let you guys have fun with that,” he said. “Right now, all I’m concerned with is just Michigan. I’ve always been that way.”

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