The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020   INSIDE MICHIGAN ATHLETICS Michigan basketball assis- tant Phil Martelli said he was treated like "gold" when he ar- rived in Ann Arbor, from his co-workers on down. "The pursuit of excellence is what Michigan is about, and I lived it first-hand," he said. Martelli, the longtime head man at Saint Joseph's (1995- 2019) and 2014 Naismith Coach of the Year, detailed his first season at U-M and more in this exclusive Q&A: The Wolverine: What do you remember about your first conversations with Juwan Howard? Phil Martelli: "First and fore- most, we became instanta- neous friends. There's a mutual respect there, an openness to sharing, and I just think he's a really, really special guy. "I ended up talking to [for- mer NBA coach] Jeff Van Gundy [before tak ing the Michigan job]. He asked me, 'What do you know about him?' I said, 'I don't know, just the Fab Five. I know he was a pro's pro in the NBA.' "He said, 'Let me put you at ease. He's a [former Saint Joseph's standout and Martelli player] Jameer Nelson kind of person.' "Jameer, to me, was the mountain- top. Forget the basketball part of it, just as a human being. And Jeff was right." The Wolverine: You said you could see Juwan raising championship ban- ners at Michigan even before arriving at U-M. What's your view after a year? Martelli: "I don't want to put pres- sure on him, but I think it's a can't miss. I think he is destined to go up there as one of the best coaches in college basketball because he gets the whole thing. He gets it's a player's game, and he promotes without being false. He's a terrific teacher, and he is a remark- able worker. "I know that every day I get up, and whether I'm home in Philly or on cam- pus, I know everybody is pushing in the same direction and that it's okay to say out loud, 'We're in pursuit of a national championship.' I get juiced about that." The Wolverine: How different was it being an assistant after being a head coach for so many years at Saint Jo- seph's and having the success you did? Martelli: "The basketball was unbe- lievable because it was new, the kind of infusion of NBA style — not just in terms of style of play, but the amount of film we watched, the concepts we taught. That part of it was great. "Juwan Howard is on the Mount Rushmore of people, forgetting the basketball part, and I loved the chal- lenge of the Big Ten. "The only problem was not a prob- lem. It just was what it was. I was the kind of guy who my hands were on everything as a head coach — how we were going to run camp, what our t-shirts were going to look like, our incoming freshmen, who's going to live with who, how's this kid doing in every class? "I really enjoyed that. That was not there, but the toughest part was when practice or games ended, I just went home. You can only make so many recruiting calls." The Wolverine: Most head coaches with your success want to be head coaches again. How often do you think about it? Martelli: "Here's what I'm interested in right now — I'm interested in the pursuit of a national championship. If somewhere along the line someone says a 66-year-old bald guy might be the one … "I don't see myself in a po- sition where they're saying, 'We're rock bottom, and we're going to build this thing up.' If it was a situation where they were in serious pursuit of a league championship, I would give it serious consideration. "But there is going to be some geography [taken into consideration]. I have to think about my wife. As a head coach, she would have to come wherever I am. As an assistant, we can live this lifestyle. "I am … content's maybe the wrong word, because I don't want people thinking, 'He's just easing into retire- ment.' I'm energized being around these players. "Those players John Beilein and his staff brought in, it's a group of classy kids and classy families. It is a pleasure to work with them." The Wol verine: What are your thoughts about Ann Arbor overall? Martelli: "I love it. Before the pan- demic, I wanted to get more involved in the community. I want to give back more; I want to help more. It is who I am, and I've just always been about people. "I just like engaging with people. Our positions are so remarkable in that you can choose to just coach, but that's never been good enough for me. I want to make an impact when I can. If I can make a difference in one kid's family, one student, that's why I do it." — Chris Balas After a year on the job, Martelli — the former head coach at Saint Joseph's (1995-2019) and 2014 Naismith Coach of the Year for college basketball — thinks boss Juwan Howard "is destined to go up there as one of the best coaches in college basketball." PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Sitting Down With Assistant Basketball Coach Phil Martelli

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