'Who wouldn’t be happy about that?' UM players embrace the arrival of Juwan Howard

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Juwan Howard enters his press conference Thursday.

Ann Arbor — Some people scratched their heads and others nodded in approval when Juwan Howard was named Michigan’s new head basketball coach.

Junior forward Isaiah Livers, on the other hand, literally jumped up and down when he heard the news.

“I almost hit my head on the top of the living room,” Livers said Thursday, the day Howard was officially introduced. “I was like, ‘Juwan Howard! Ex-Fab Five, played in the NBA, was an NBA coach?’ Who wouldn’t be happy about that? I met him already before, so I already knew what type of guy he was, so I was just super stoked.”

Livers was among the pack of players on hand for Howard’s introductory presser at Crisler Center, which came eight days after Howard signed a five-year deal to return to the helm of his alma mater.

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While other Wolverines might not have had quite the same level of reaction, Livers noted it was along the same lines.

"I knew everybody got that smile on their face,” Livers said. “It's Juwan Howard, man. He's a serious dude and he knows what he's doing.”

Howard, of course, has no shortage of accolades on his resume. He was a two-time All-American and part of the famed quintet that carried Michigan to back-to-back national title game appearances in 1992 and 1993. He was a first-round draft pick, a two-time champion and an All-Star who played 19 seasons in the NBA.

After his playing days ended in 2013, Howard became an assistant coach with the Miami Heat where he learned with some of basketball’s most respected minds — Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley — and worked with some of the game’s greatest players — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

While Howard has never been a head coach at any level, his experience of being where every basketball player wants to go resonates with the Wolverines.

Isaiah Livers with former coach John Beilein.

“To have a coach that actually played is huge,” sophomore wing Adrien Nunez said. “You just trust what he says because he's been in your shoes, in this university. He's been in a championship culture at the NBA level, championship culture at the college level. He has two sons (Jace and Jett) that are players, so you know he's definitely going to be for the players.

"He even said it up there (during his introductory remarks), it's about the players and not about him, so that's a really good sign. I'm really excited about it.”

The excitement helped wipe away the numbing shock the players felt when John Beilein accepted the job to become head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers on May 13.

That was followed by a 10-day period of unease and uncertainty where the team stayed connected and communicated through a group chat.

“That's a very vulnerable moment for everybody. We want to know who was going to leave, if anybody is going to leave,” said Livers, who added ex-Wolverine Charles Matthews was even reaching out and checking up on the guys.

“I'm just proud of how everybody took it. Everybody handled it very well, even the guys that were here (on campus) without a head coach. They were handling it very well and just had a next day mentality and were working as hard as they can.”

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Senior center Jon Teske said he made sure everyone was staying loose and staying connected, whether it was lifting together or playing pick-up games, and asked athletic director Warde Manuel to come in and speak with the younger players during the coaching search.

Nunez added everyone was going over to each other’s houses to watch basketball and eat together throughout the process, which “made us a more tight-knit group in the end.”

While a new coach could mean new roles and lead to players exploring other options, Livers said he had no reason to leave Michigan and there’s no other place he’d want to play. And it appears the rest of the team feels the same way.

“Most guys were like we're just going to wait for who comes in and I want to know who comes in before I make my decision,” Livers said. “It looks like everybody is happy and nobody is really going to make that decision.”

Howard called every player individually last week after he was hired and the team first met him in person before Thursday’s news conference, where his passion for Michigan was on full display.

“Seeing our head coach up their crying when he gets introduced as the official head coach, that means his heart, his pride, his tears are all going to be left on the court,” Livers said. “He's going to do everything in his power to make us great.”

Slam dunks

Former assistant and defensive guru Luke Yaklich officially joined Shaka Smart’s staff at Texas as an associate head coach. The university announced the hiring on Friday.

The news comes one day after fellow assistant DeAndre Haynes announced he also won’t be returning to Michigan for a third season. Haynes and Yaklich were both hired by Beilein two years ago, and the Wolverines ranked in the top three in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency each of the last two seasons.

Yaklich took to Twitter to thank the Michigan athletic department for two "amazing years as a Wolverine."

"It was an incredible privilege to coach at the University of Michigan," Yaklich tweeted. "I am thankful that Coach Beilein gave me the opportunity to coach with a great and talented group of coaches and support staff. I especially want to thank our players and will always be appreciative of our times on and off the court, entering the fight and bringing the heat together!

"I wish the University of Michigan, Coach Howard and the entire men’s basketball program the absolute best moving forward." 

… According to the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said he tried to hire Howard during the three-plus seasons he was head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

"I think he'll do a great job at Michigan," Hoiberg said.


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins