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What Juwan Howard Will Remember Most About Michigan's Banner Season

Late Thursday afternoon, Juwan Howard sat down at his computer and logged onto Zoom. Behind him, a glass case displaying numerous versions of Jordan Brand shoes and a sculpture made by artist Hebru Brantley. On the wall in front of him, a television turned to ESPNU, on which 2021 five-star Michigan signee Caleb Houstan was showing out for Montverde (Fla.) Academy in the national prep tournament (Houstan's squad ended up winning the national championship Saturday).

The Michigan alum and head coach just finished his second season on the job after returning from a 25-year career as a player and assistant coach in the NBA.

He wishes he wasn't at his home office.

"Yup, I'm in Ann Arbor, unfortunately." Howard said with a soft smile that more resembled a grimace to the Associated Press moderator who would soon introduce the 48-year-old as the AP National Coach of the Year. Howard became the second person in history to be awarded that honor plus be an All-American player in college, joining former Western Kentucky point guard and Minnesota head man Clem Haskins.

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Michigan Wolverines basketball head coach Juwan Howard has a 42-17 record in two seasons at U-M.
Michigan Wolverines basketball head coach Juwan Howard has a 42-17 record in two seasons at U-M. (AP Images)

He would much rather be in Indianapolis, of course where his Wolverines resided for 20 days during the Big Ten Tournament and an Elite Eight run in the Big Dance. But that's the nature of the tournament, and Howard — who has now made it to at least the regional finals in all four college basketball postseasons he's been a part of — knows that as well as anybody.

Regardless, he's still thankful to be in the position he's in.

"I want to say thank you to the University of Michigan," Howard said, beginning his Coach of the Year acceptance speech. "Thank you to our AD Warde Manuel for believing in me, for taking a chance on a guy from the South Side of Chicago. Like you said before, never been a head coach before and felt in his heart that I would be the right man to lead the program. Also want to thank Mark Schlissel, the president of the University of Michigan, for also signing off on making this happen.

"I want to give a big, big thanks to the players. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to get this award, because they’re the ones who are out there sacrificing, competing, buying into a culture, buying into a head coach that pushed them to get uncomfortable, and they really accepted it. And I’m just so happy with all I was able to do, they helped me become the best version of myself.

“I also want to give a big thanks to the coaching staff. [Associate head] Coach Phil Martelli, [assistants] Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley. Those guys are selfless. It was beautiful to see how we all were different types of personalities, egos, but gave to the program and gave to inspiring these young men to go out there and compete at a high level, but also learning from one another.

"I also have to give a big thanks to the Michigan fans, alumni base for all the support they’ve given myself, the staff and players. Gotta give a big shoutout to our managers. The managers were amazing. They were stars in their role, behind the scenes at making everything happen, working countless hours, losing a lot of sleep. And also maybe falling behind on their grades.

“I want to say, for all the coaches that have helped me develop into a basketball player and teaching me so many different things of the game, for the people that work with the Miami Heat. Coach [Erik] Spoelstra for developing me to become a head coach at the University of Michigan.

"There are so many people I could thank. ... God — I have to give much love and respect to the Man Above because he knew something in me that I didn’t know in myself. I’m just so happy that he’s blessed me to help impact these young men. And I will never, ever take it for granted. And I will always try to do whatever I can to help serve others.

"Also, I don’t want to forget my wife [Jenine] and my kids, because I would not be able to sleep in the bed next to my wife if I did not give her the love and a shout out that she truly deserves. Because she sacrificed so much during this time and she’s my biggest supporter, no matter what. Thank you, baby."

Howard led his squad to a 23-5 record and the Big Ten regular-season championship, before making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament without star senior forward Isaiah Livers that ended with a heartbreaking 51-49 loss to UCLA in the East regional finals.

There was plenty of remember from what was a special campaign. In a year they won their first 11 contests, Howard and his team notched rivalry wins over Ohio State and Michigan State, and signature victories over Wisconsin (twice), Iowa and Purdue.

There were postgame locker rooms filled with elation and celebration, practices that entailed hard work, some blood, sweat and tears.

This was also likely the most challenging and unprecedented season in the sport's history, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way everything operated in 2020-21. Daily, early-morning virus testing persisted from summer to spring, and credit the players, coaches and staff members for being willing to go through it all for a bigger cause.

Howard will take much with him from this past season, but he'll remember the camaraderie the most.

"Some of the moments that I will always remember is the bus rides, man," Howard said when we asked what he'll take with him forever. "The bus rides with some of the music that was being played the bus rides from Indiana, bus ride from Purdue and some of the conversations we had on the bus, just building that relationship even stronger.

"Those moments right there that I will never ever forget and I will always enjoy and I will miss this summer.”

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