The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2021 T hose bent on living in The Land Of Perpetual Misery will hang onto Johnny and the Fighting Ju- zangs for a long, long time. They'll obsess about the end of Michigan's basketball season, one made shot away from the Final Four. Nobody took the 51-49 sea- son's cessation harder than Juwan Howard and his crew. They're the ones who will never be together again, at least with a chance to nail a three- pointer and take down UCLA. Such musings — missed shots, missed opportunities, maybe a missed Shining Mo- ment — will always be there to caress, when melancholy beckons. Michigan basketball fans ought to instead focus on bigger fish to fry. There's a coming feast to be con- templated, along with the bounty already consumed. Think about it. When senior cap- tain Isaiah Livers got shelved prior to the NCAA Tournament with a stress-fractured foot, Michigan went from No. 1 seed to No. 1 target for an early exit by the talking heads. The Wolverines would be lucky to make the Sweet 16, some said. If they did, they'd go no farther. Instead, the Big Ten regular- season champions took it down to the very last shot in the Elite Eight, against an intact crew playing its best basketball of the season. Hardly the recipe for everlasting remorse. "Think of it — we're one game away from going to the Final Four, without our second-leading scorer," mused Jay Smith, Howard's director of player personnel and develop- ment. "That's pretty incredible." Smith has been there before. A part of Steve Fisher's staff in the 1990s, Smith saw Howard and his team- mates take it to the final game of the season before falling short — twice. This time, the tears should be quickly wiped away, he insisted. "It'd be like saying, 'Okay, Juzang, you're not going to play for UCLA," Smith said. "Well, they're going to get beat. There's no question. Take [star forward Drew] Timme off of Gonza- ga's team, they're going to get beat. "My whole thing is, we're right there. Our defense is there … and we missed some shots. We're in po- sition to make shots. Guys have got to make them. But there's no finger- pointing going on. "We win and lose as a team. That's the way Juwan is and that's the way we are as a staff. But Juwan leads the charge. It's his personality that's shaping our team." His personality shaped it into an Elite Eight squad on his first op- portunity in an NCAA Tournament. That alone will pave the way for future such chances. Michigan's big-picture run — from a team picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten before the season to the banner-hangers the Wolverines be- came — shocked many. Not former teammate Jimmy King. That's because he knows so well the man in charge. "It's not surprising," King in- sisted. "It's really expected. I know him personally, and I know what drives him and motivates him. He's competitive, and nobody's going to out-work him. "We see that in how his players play. We see that in the enthu- siasm from the sideline, when he's coaching. We see that in the results from him, his coach- ing staff and the administra- tion, as they bring in the top recruiting class for next year." That top recruiting class, including three McDonald's All-Americans, underscores why the season-ending disap- pointment will quickly give way to a bright horizon. "Think about the guys Ju- wan has worked with in the NBA," Smith pointed out. "To me, if I'm a young man look- ing at a school, I'm looking at a guy who played 19 years in the league, with all these people, to relate those experi- ences, and then coached in the NBA and won a world championship. "He worked in the one of the best organizations in the country, the Mi- ami Heat. That culture has been de- fined in the media for years as one of the best cultures ever. What better hands-on experience can you have? "He's been where they want to go. He's been there, he's taught, he's developed. Man, those are great ex- periences." Some whispered Howard might just be an emotional, feel-good hire. Well, most are feeling very good about a Big Ten title and Elite Eight in year two. Some tossed out the slight that the new coach benefited immensely from the culture built by the old coach. Bunk. Cultures change quickly under ill-fitting regimes. One doesn't have to go back far in Michigan football history to see that. "He's put his own stamp on this program now," Smith noted. "It's Juwan's team, and Juwan's culture." It comes with a sky's-the-limit sensation. One loss stings, but the future sings … The Victors. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Tough Ending Is Only The Beginning Despite the tough loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight, the future is bright for head coach Juwan Howard's program. PHOTO BY TREVOR BROWN JR. Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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