Juwan Howard connects with Bears coach Matt Nagy in Chicago visit

Dan Wiederer
Chicago Tribune
Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard was a guest at Chicago's Halas Hall on Friday.

Chicago — A wide-eyed visitor wandered through the Bears locker room Friday, checking out the new facilities and getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at his favorite NFL team.

Chicago native, lifelong Bears fan and current Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard was thrilled to be a guest at Halas Hall, taking advantage of an invitation from Matt Nagy to watch practice and talk shop.

Howard, he of Fab Five fame and 20 seasons in the NBA, had Nagy a bit starstruck when they met before practice inside the Payton Center in Lake Forest. The Bears coach was 12 years old when Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson arrived in Ann Arbor in 1990 and changed the landscape of college basketball.

“It was definitely an interesting time back then,” Nagy said Friday. “I think what was so cool about what they did — and it’s what coach Howard and I were talking about — is that they did it their way. They didn’t care what other people thought. They were out of the box. The started something their own way. And that’s neat. I think that’s pretty powerful.

“Seeing the baggy shorts, the black socks and the Nike shoes takes you back. … I wore black socks. I had the exact shoes that they had.”

Nagy was asked which member of the Fab Five his hoops game most resembled.

“Me?” he said. “My game was really like none of them. My game was just OK.”

But on Friday, Nagy wasn’t only reminiscing with Howard, who became Michigan’s coach in May. He was also picking Howard’s brain. Howard first connected with the Bears over the summer and Nagy was eager to meet.

“I watched his (introductory) press conference,” Nagy said. “I watched how authentic and real he was. If that doesn’t hit you as a human being, I don’t know what does. For me seeing that, you appreciate people who care so much about what they do. And then to come back to your alma mater? They’re going to be very successful because of who he is.

“We had a nice little talk before practice, just both of us bouncing leadership ideas off of one another. … That’s a relationship we’ll always have.”

Coincidentally, Khalil Mack was wearing a Miami Heat hat after practice Friday and appreciated his chance to meet Howard, who played with the Heat from 2010-2013.

“He’s a good dude, man,” Mack said. “He came and shared some great words with us. I wasn’t really aware that he was a Bears fan.”

Howard brought his Michigan assistant coaches with him Friday, including legendary former St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, whom Nagy was quite familiar with while growing up in Pennsylvania.

“I knew of him really well. But we had never met,” Nagy said. “The second I saw him it was crazy, just because you see him on TV all the time there playing at St. Joe’s. And we were just talking after practice about that great team he had back in the day with Jameer West and Delonte (West).”

All in all, Friday’s interactions proved positive.