Juwan Howard not afraid to 'steak' reputation on Michigan-Michigan State rivalry
Ann Arbor — Juwan Howard had to pay the price after Michigan State swept the three-game series against Michigan last season.
The cost? Three steak dinners.
It was part of a friendly wager Howard, then an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, had with strength and conditioning consultant Bill Foran, who received his master’s degree from Michigan State.
“I got out of town right in time,” Howard said with a laugh on Friday.
That’s because Howard won’t be a spectator watching from over 1,000 miles away again. And while he joked about bringing his No. 25 jersey out of retirement, he won’t be suiting up like he did as a standout player back in the early 1990s.
This time around, Howard will play a key role in Sunday’s clash between No. 12 Michigan and No. 14 Michigan State — his first on the sidelines as a head coach.
“He knows the rivalry,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of Howard, who went 5-1 during his playing days against the Spartans and Jud Heathcote, Izzo’s predecessor.
“He's been here before so even though it's new in the coaching realm, it's not new in the player realm.”
It’ll mark the first different coaching matchup in the series in over a decade, after former Michigan coach John Beilein and Izzo went head-to-head for 12 seasons, with Izzo owning a 14-9 record.
While Howard provides a new twist to an old rivalry — one that has blossomed in recent seasons with both teams consistently ranked in the top 15 — he shares a similar view of the matchup that Beilein held.
It’s a big game because it’s the next game on the schedule. And in the grand scheme of things, the outcome of Sunday’s encounter won’t determine whether this season is a success or a failure.
"You already know my answer,” Howard said. “UMass Lowell is a very important game. I don't look at Michigan State as the most important game of the season. They all are the most important game of the season. That's the best I can give you.”
However, sophomore guard David DeJulius said Howard has been a little different leading up to this game as opposed to others this season.
“I would say Coach Howard is more enthusiastic about it for sure,” DeJulius said. “You could tell he's just as pumped as we are. You watch him in practice, he's jumping up and down, he's yelling, he's screaming. He wants to get this one under his belt and, most importantly, he wants us to get this one under our belt as well.”
Senior center Jon Teske added Howard “got a little emotional” during film on Friday and on the court during practice on Thursday.
“Any time you're playing your rival like that, the emotion is going to run high, but you've just got to keep it in check,” Teske said. “Definitely you can tell from him he's real fired up about this game.”
Yet, you couldn’t tell from Howard’s words.
When speaking about the rivalry, he was complimentary about Michigan State star guard Cassius Winston, about the Spartans he faced during his career, about Michigan State being one of the top teams in the Big Ten and about all the “basketball minds that have gone through” East Lansing.
“It's a very competitive rivalry, but there's a lot of respect from both sides,” Howard said. “I'm sure neither one of them wants to admit it, but it is.”
Howard was also complimentary of Izzo, whom he noted “has done a lot of great things for college basketball.”
Howard cited the job Izzo has done in the community, developing young talent and getting players to where they want to be as men. Howard added he has admired from afar the way Izzo has run his program and for everything he has accomplished at Michigan State.
“Because I give these nice compliments to people don’t mean that I'm scared,” Howard said. “I just respect and appreciate what those have done before me.
“But I'm not scared of anyone.”
Similarly, Izzo has kept tabs on Howard — from college to pros to now — ever since he briefly recruited him when he was an assistant on Heathcote’s staff nearly 30 years ago.
“I've followed his career. I think he's done a good job,” Izzo said. “He really has, and he's done a good job there. It's been a great start for him, and we'll see how it goes.”
For the sake of Howard’s wallet and appetite, Sunday won’t end with a similar result as last season.
“I know I'm going to get a call from him (Foran) or vice versa,” Howard said. “But hopefully it's in my favor this time.”
Michigan at Michigan State
Tip-off: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: CBS/760, 950
Records: No. 12 Michigan 10-3, 1-1 Big Ten; No. 14 Michigan State 11-3, 3-0
Outlook: This is the 18th meeting in the series where both teams are ranked in the top 25. Michigan State holds a 10-7 advantage in those games. … Michigan has a 38-51 record in East Lansing and has lost three of four at Breslin Center by an average of 10 points.