Coaches Juwan Howard, Kim Barnes Arico bond as they lead Michigan to Sweet 16

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan has its men’s and women’s basketball teams in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, but that’s not all that binds the programs. The Wolverines are one of three programs nationally to have both teams advance this far in the postseason and the only Big Ten representative in both tournaments .

When Juwan Howard took over as men’s coach two years ago, he became a regular at the women’s home games in 2019, sitting in the front row totally absorbed in the games. He and women’s coach Kim Barnes Arico hit it off from the start, and the two have been extremely supportive of each other, boosting each other’s teams on social media, but more importantly, behind the scenes.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico is the winningest coach in program history.

Barnes Arico, in her ninth season, has taken the Wolverines to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history and they will face Baylor on Saturday. Howard, in his second season, and the Wolverines face Florida State on Sunday. 

“From the minute he stepped on campus and was named the head coach of our men’s basketball program, he has embraced our team,” Barnes Arico said Thursday during an NCAA conference call with reporters. “He’s front row, and now this year he wasn’t able to because of COVID, but last year he was front row at every one of our games, and I don’t mean just there just to check a box and say I came to support the women but actually invested in our team, I mean, throwing his hands up, Naz (Hillmon) scores and he’s fist-bumping, he’s flexing his muscles.”

That has never been posturing on his part, Howard said Thursday during a call with reporters.

“It’s just naturally who I am,” Howard said. “I love Michigan. I love everything about the university. I got an opportunity to watch the women play since the time I got the job here and was always impressed with the staff, always impressed with coach Kim’s leadership and the talented young ladies that are out there working hard each and every day in practice.

“So there were moments when I had an opportunity to look and watch the practice and see how she runs a practice, her and her staff, and just learn from them. It was nice building a relationship with her. It’s been pure, will always be that way no matter what because I respect Kim, not only as a coach but as a person.”

Barnes Arico said Howard knows the names and families of all her players, and the men’s and women’s players are close.

“If we’re getting ready for a game, they’re standing up and chanting for us,” she said of the Michigan men’s players. “But it’s led by Juwan and his character and his passion and his determination, but the word family and the way he feels about Michigan is true.”

The coaches have leaned on each other during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the two-week athletic department-wide pause in late January.

“We’ve been in it together,” Barnes Arico said. “Every time I hit another stumbling block or I have a bump in the road, I’m like, ‘Coach!’ he’s like, ‘I’m here. This COVID is for real, and we’re in this together.’ His office is right above the court, and every day when we get ready to start practice, his head is out there and he’s giving us a pump up and he’s watching the first few minutes of practice, and we do the same. I can’t speak enough about him as a person and the culture and the program they have there. Their support and our love for each other and each other’s program is real.”

Twitter: @chengelis