The Wolverine

January 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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6 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2021 J ohn Beilein brought Michigan basketball out of a decade-plus malaise, taking it to a pair of na- tional championship games. Along the way, Beilein became the win- ningest coach in the history of the program, and arguably its best. Juwan Howard has a chance to one-up him. That's how striking the early re- turns are for the former Fab Fiver, who invested a quarter-century in the NBA as a player and coach. Howard's emotional bond with Michigan stands undeniable. The tears streaming down his face when they announced him as head coach shouted it's so. His stiff-arming of strong NBA opportunities backs the notion. Still, it sounds crazy to even dream that Howard might someday exceed what happened in the dozen years before he showed up. He hasn't won one Big Ten championship, much less four. He hasn't made one Sweet Sixteen, much less five. What's that they say in the NBA, though? You draft on potential. How- ard demonstrated in a year and a half potential planted in Miracle-Gro. Some cast Howard's coronation as Beilein's successor as a feel-good mistake. They quietly predicted the emotional anchor of the Fab Five would wash out, once Beilein's players and culture left the building. When players from the last regime exit, performers like 7-1 freshman sensation Hunter Dickinson — Mich- igan's top rebounder and second- leading scorer through seven games — will remain. The nation's No. 1 recruiting class will arrive, featuring five-star Caleb Houstan and no fewer than four four-stars. Don't get lost in the galaxy, Phil Martelli cautions. The Michigan as- sistant coach — in a wide-ranging 48-minute interview just before the season tipped off — insisted the Howard pull involves much more than talent, by design. "Almost every team or organiza- tion will say now, culture and val- ues, family and all this other stuff," Martelli explained. "Being perfectly frank, I think sometimes it's bull----. They're the catch phrases. 'I'm sup- posed to say it.' "To Juwan's credit, he does live by those cultural beliefs. He really does see everybody involved with the program as family. "He truly is a servant. He wants to serve all the young guys. That's the support staff, all these phenomenal student managers. And he wants to serve in practice. He wants to serve the walk-on as much as he wants to serve Franz Wagner." Martelli then delivered the ex- ample of Howard spending five practice minutes — "an eternity" in time-crunched, NCAA-regulated workouts — instructing a pair of walk-ons on a defensive maneuver. "I had to say something," Martelli noted. "I told him, 'That kind of at- tention and that kind of care is what leaves me with no doubt that you're going to be extraordinary at this.' "I really do believe he's a can't miss. He will coach a national cham- pion before he leaves Michigan." National championships are built on immense talent. Beilein's best team proved nearly miraculous in that respect. It pulled in NBA-level personnel like Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. without soiling itself in college bas- ketball's pay-for-play mud pit. It summoned Nik Stauskas from Canada and a three-star-turned-su- perstar, Trey Burke, from Ohio. And it nearly secured a national champi- onship against a regime busted for cheating not long after. Howard proved quickly he can bring in talent. He nearly secured signatures from a pair of five-stars to join Dickinson and Michigan's other talented freshmen and transfer plug-ins this season. For 2021-22, there won't be any near misses. Six signatures are already on the dotted line. Again, it's more than measurables, Martelli insists. "Juwan and I were physically meet- ing in the offices for the first time," he recalled. "I said, 'What do you want to do about recruiting? What's the philosophy going to be? Is it just let's go get the very, very, very best play- ers, and we'll figure it out from there?' "He said to me, very vividly, 'This will be about family. We'll study the players' families. We'll study the players. We'll study the fit, with what we believe in.' "He has not wavered from that. Knowing what he is about, and therefore knowing what Michigan is about, and what Michigan provided Juwan, that has stayed true in the recruiting." Given the talent on hand, and what's coming, winning big again isn't far off. It could leave Howard with a decision: move back to the NBA, or build a dynasty in the place that brought tears to his eyes. Juwan Howard is 47 years old. In 20 years, he could leave no doubt about Michigan's best coach. He could be Michigan basketball's Bo Schembechler. Those thoughts remain far away, and should. Howard is thinking about beating Nebraska, and Mary- land, and Northwestern. But for dreamers amid a national lockdown, it's not a bad trip to take. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Juwan Howard Could Build A Dynasty Howard may only be 26-12 at U-M through this season's first seven games, but his on- court product and recruiting successes so far have made many into believers. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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