Duncan Robinson on Juwan Howard's coaching: 'When he speaks, you listen'

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Juwan Howard

When former Wolverine Duncan Robinson went undrafted last offseason, he landed an NBA Summer League deal with the Heat.

One of the first people he heard from? Former Fab Five member and Miami assistant Juwan Howard.

“Early on in Summer League last year he immediately reached out to me just because we had the Michigan connection,” Robinson told The Detroit News on Thursday. “That's one of the things that really jumped out to me is his genuine love for Michigan. A lot of players, particularly with a career after Michigan like he had, would maybe distant themselves from the program, but he takes a ton of pride in it.

“He helped me a ton and I'm really thankful having had that experience. I know the Michigan basketball program is certainly lucky to have him."

Howard agreed to a five-year deal Wednesday to return to his alma mater and become the new head coach following John Beilein’s departure to the NBA.

While Michigan’s current players don’t know what they’re getting in a coach in Howard, Robinson certainly does.

Robinson parlayed his strong Summer League showing into a two-way contract with the Heat, which led to him playing in 15 NBA games this season and spending plenty of time around Howard.

“First and foremost, he's a relationship-first type coach and he really prioritizes his relationships with his players,” Robinson said. “And that's not to say that he doesn't really know his X’s and O’s because he does. On the court and teaching and that sort of thing he's great, but the thing that stuck out to me is how genuine he is as a person and how he goes out of his way to show his players that he has a genuine care for them.”

Howard, of course, starred at Michigan from 1991-94 and helped the Wolverines reach back-to-back national titles games. He went on to become the No. 5 pick in the 1994 draft and play 19 years in the NBA, winning two titles with the Heat in 2012 and 2013.

Duncan Robinson

Following his retirement in 2013, he transitioned into an assistant role on Erik Spoelstra’s staff in Miami, where he has spent the past six seasons.

Robinson said given Howard’s track record as both a player and coach, he commanded the respect of every player on the Heat roster.

“He's the type of guy when he speaks up and talks, you listen because he has so much experience and has experienced so much success that when he says something it sticks more often than not,” said Robinson, who signed a two-year standard contract with the Heat in April. 

“As a coach with us he did a lot of the defensive stuff, but one of the things that really impressed me was his ability to understand player development and really help our big men. That was obviously the position he worked with specifically grow and he has a really good understanding of what it takes to be successful at that position.”

Robinson, a 6-foot-8 wing, was known more for his 3-point shooting than his defense during his three seasons in Ann Arbor. Yet, he credited Howard for his improvement on the defensive end due to Howard's conceptual knowledge from individual, team and schematic standpoints.

With Howard on the staff, the Heat finished in the top 10 of the NBA in defensive efficiency each of the last four seasons.

According to Robinson, Howard wasn’t limited to working with the big men and helping devise defensive gameplans. He also had a hand in some offensive areas and scouting, and would even play a little bit on the scout team.

“A lot of the duties are shared,” Robinson said, “so I was able to see him shine in a lot of different ways with a lot of responsibilities.”

Robinson said Howard was viewed as a “legendary” figure throughout Miami’s locker room and his resume resonates with basketball players at every level.

“He's been where everyone is trying to go, whether it be in college having gone to multiple Final Fours or in the NBA winning NBA championships,” Robinson said. “Having somebody who has been through that but also humble enough to take the time to pass it on to the younger generation, teach and be a mentor is pretty special.

“As a recruit in high school, I can't imagine wanting to play for anybody else. A lot of the goals for these young kids is to get to the next level and to the NBA. Who better to play for than a guy who knows exactly what it takes?”

While Howard knows what it takes to succeed, he's entering a new world having never been a head coach and having never juggled everything — recruiting, monitoring academics, working under NCAA rules — that comes with the college game.

Robinson said the most important thing is Howard needs to be best version of himself and do things his way at Michigan because nobody can be “Coach Beilein 2.0.”

“As an alum of the program and somebody that knows Juwan, I think it's a great fit,” Robinson said. “Obviously it's tough to see Coach Beilein go because of the success he's had there, but quite frankly I couldn't think of a better person to replace him and bring in this new era of Michigan basketball. I think he'll do a great job.”


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins