The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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58 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020 J uwan Howard wasn't sure how he'd react when he was first announced as U-M's head coach last year. As a Miami Heat assistant and up-and-comer in the coaching profession, he'd been interviewing with NBA teams and emerged as one of the hot names in league circles. But fate intervened, as it has throughout Howard's blessed life. His dream job opened, and it also happened to be his son's dream school. When Jace Howard graduated from Hollywood (Fla.) University School this year, he re- ally only had one option in mind. "He's always embraced Michi- gan, [had] so much passion for Michigan because his dad has always talked about Michigan," Juwan Howard said. "He's heard it in the household for years and years and he's seen the excite- ment — how I get excited when Michigan football comes on, or Michigan basketball. "It just started from birth." That wasn't the case for the elder Howard. He had options coming out of Chicago Vocational School in 1991 and could have gone anywhere in the country. His most influential mentor had helped get him to that point and away from the dangers proliferating the 69th Street apartment where he lived with his grandmother, and Howard knew there was something about Michigan and its coaches she found genuine. Howard asked her to sign his na- tional letter of intent Nov. 14 with- out telling her where he was going. She obliged, trusting him with the decision before asking him to end the suspense. "She said, 'I'm just so happy you're going to Michigan,'" Howard recalled during his first Big Ten me- dia day last year, pausing to rub his arm. "Oh man, I'm just getting chills [thinking about it]. "She told me, 'You'd better get your degree.' I listened to her. If I didn't get that …" Then he never would have been interviewed for the Michigan job, which he landed last year when head coach John Beilein abruptly left to join the Cleveland Cavaliers. The timing really was everything. Had it been a few weeks later, How- ard might have already signed to coach elsewhere. Had it been earlier, more college coaches with NCAA experience might have been too hard for director of athletics Warde Manuel to pass up. Those who believe in fate, as Howard almost certainly does, would say it was meant to be. But it often takes a support system to help open doors, and Howard had his share. He became a prep honors student, the homecoming king and — after several years of incredible basketball success — the same genuine guy he was 30 years ago when he arrived in Ann Arbor. "That was part of why I had tears that day," he said of the day he was introduced as Michigan's new coach. "If I never listed to my grandma, my high school basketball coach, Richard "Dick" Cook, who was like a father figure to me and still is. "… I was big into baseball, and after my junior year I was ready to go right to baseball season. He was like, 'I know you love base- ball, and I played baseball grow- ing up with Jackie Robinson, but basketball — that's the sport for you.'" Without that, Howard might not be where he is today, and he wouldn't have been in position to shed more tears recently when he watched his son take the court for the first time as a U-M freshman under his watch. Those who opened the doors for him, after all, also helped open them for his son. "It's a blessing, man. Just to see how far Jace has come, having your son, your child, who you've helped develop, teach, be the young man he is today; he's an excellent student," Howard said. "He's shown that throughout his years in school. To see now that I get the opportunity to coach him …" Is an opportunity to make up for some things he missed as a pro bas- ketball player and coach. "You're seeing your family in the house and watching them grow up, but I wasn't as active as I wanted to be, and I thought I was being," he lamented. Through no fault of his own, of course. It comes with the territory. But now, at one of what he calls the most important stages of his son's life, he's there to help shape him in person. His boy is also doing it while wearing his dad's No. 25 — his son's choice, not his. "You talk about tears, and you know I can cry. I've been crying," Howard said with a laugh. Because no matter what Jace expe- riences at U-M, his dad will finally be right next to him. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS Easy To Root For Juwan Howard is still the same genuine guy he was 30 years ago when he arrived in Ann Arbor as a player, and now he'll get to coach his son as a Michigan freshman. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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