Meetings with John Beilein helped Juwan Howard prepare for head coaching job

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan coach Juwan Howard talks to reporters during the Big Ten media day Wednesday.

Rosemont, Ill. — When Juwan Howard started kicking around the idea of getting into coaching toward the end of his 19-year NBA career, he turned to several sources about making the transition.

There was Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan and assistant Monty Williams, who provided insight about what it took to be a coach when the bug first started to bite during the 2009-10 season.

There was Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his assistants David Fizdale and Dan Craig, who Howard played for during his final three NBA seasons and credited for helping prepare him to be a head coach.

And then there was former Michigan coach John Beilein, who Howard would visit every summer during the six seasons he spent as an assistant coach on Spoelstra’s staff.

“He (Beilein) would pick my brain on defense, on post defense,” Howard said Wednesday at Big Ten basketball media day. “There were times when we would have a session I call it a career workshop day  where he would have his staff, coaching staff out there, and we all would talk about basketball and developing and skill development from an offensive standpoint.

“I've always had a lot of respect for Coach Beilein and his philosophy. There were times I would ask Erik Spoelstra to reach out to Coach Beilein because I would say, ‘Hey, this guy is interesting. He's one of the best basketball minds out there.’”

John Beilein

Little did Howard know, though, that his first shot at a head-coaching gig would come at his alma mater after Beilein, the program’s all-time winningest coach, left to take the head job with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But while Howard admires the job Beilein has done during his time in Ann Arbor, he said he’s going to follow his own blueprint.

“Now, I'm sure a lot of people think, you have a lot of pressure on you to try to fill those shoes. All I can say is this: I'm not going to try to be like Coach Beilein,” Howard said. “He has his philosophy, his way of doing things. I have my philosophy, and I feel that works for our team moving forward. But I do respect the gentleman who was there before me.”

According to senior center Jon Teske and senior guard Zavier Simpson, Howard’s coaching style is similar to Beilein’s in certain respects, like how they’ve been doing things at practice.

"He's pretty intense but at the same time he's kind of laid back,” Teske said. “He really focuses on the details  running wide, running the lane, how to set ball screens, how to come off ball screens. Just little stuff like that he's very detailed about, but it's been smooth so far.”

Junior forward Isaiah Livers added Howard’s time with the Heat will help him continue to carry on and maintain the culture that has been built at Michigan under Beilein.

“Not a lot of NBA teams have tradition, but the Miami Heat seem to be the one that stands out the most that has that culture the team is based upon,” Livers said. “Fortunately for Coach Howard, he's stepping into a coaching spot where the previous coach had nothing but traditions and cultures so it's kind of perfect for him. It's like a match.

“It's just a blessing to see Coach Howard as our coach because he seems to be on the same page as we are.”

First domino

Since late August, Howard has been able to get numerous top prospects to come to Ann Arbor for an official visit, like five-star recruits Jaden Springer, Nimari Burnett, Isaiah Todd and Walker Kessler, and four-stars Moses Moody, Lane Ware and Hunter Dickinson.

However, the Wolverines have yet to land any of their recruiting targets for the 2020 class, with Kessler and Ware both off the board after committing to North Carolina and Kentucky, respectively.

Howard said he doesn’t think the recruits who listed Michigan among their finalists are doing so just because of his name and image. Rather, Howard said they have trust in what he’s telling them about the university, the players who are already on the roster and the team’s new coaching staff as he enters his first season as a head coach.

"There have been some recruits that have really been excited about the new vision and what we have in store,” Howard said. “Now I just feel that once one recruit commits, it's going to be like a rapid fire and everyone else will fall in. Who is willing to step to the front of the line and bet on themselves first? I bet on my myself first when I stepped to the line and I committed to the University of Michigan.”

Juwan Howard answers questions during the Big Ten media day Wednesday.

Slam dunks

Howard said he's open to having his Fab Five teammates — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — all come together at Crisler Center this season but made it known he's not going out of his way to make it happen.

"I’m not going to try to help manage their schedules and try to make sure everyone’s schedules align so we can get a reunion going," Howard said. "I’ll leave that up to them. I’ve got to coach. I’ve got my own schedule.

"But to break it down like this — all those guys are my family. They are welcome to visit practices, visit our games. The university is the place that has helped mold them into who they are today. It’s their home." 

Howard added since he took over the head job in late May, Jerod Ward, Louis Bullock, Jason Bossard, Chris Seter and Maceo Baston are among the former Wolverines who have already come back to visit.

"I don't think those guys have been to Michigan in a long time," Howard said. "It’s family, man. It’s Michigan. They’re always welcome."

... When it comes to his assistants’ responsibilities, Howard said Saddi Washington focuses more on defense, Howard Eisley pays more attention to the offense and Phil Martelli “coaches us all.”

And when it comes to divvying up position groups at practice, Teske said Howard works with the big men, Washington works with the wings and Eisley works with the guards while Martelli usually bounces from group to group.

 … Simpson said he talks often to former teammate Charles Matthews, who tore his ACL during a predraft workout in June.

According to Simpson, Matthews is “doing really good” in his rehab.

“He's taking his time with it,” Simpson said. “His head is strong and he's mentally grounded.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins