University of Michigan graduate students go on illegal strike with rally

Juwan Howard, Wolverines get plenty of high-profile support against Southern Utah

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Juwan Howard was beaming after Saturday night’s game at Crisler Center.

Part of it could be attributed to the Wolverines’ 37-point thrashing of Southern Utah. But much of it had to do with the fact a bunch of Howard's former NBA brethren were on hand for the contest, including Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, ex-Wolverine Duncan Robinson and former teammate Tracy McGrady.

"I can't stop smiling," Howard said. “The support was real tonight. It was beautiful to see.”

Michigan forward Moussa Diabate, left, is called for a charge on Southern Utah center Jason Spurgin.

Howard’s ties to the league run deep. He spent 25 years in the NBA — 19 as a player and six as an assistant coach on Spoelstra’s Heat staff — and was well respected throughout his career.

Spoelstra, Robinson and the Heat were in town for Sunday’s tilt against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena but made time for the short detour. McGrady, on the other hand, flew in for the contest from Texas and was scheduled to fly back on Saturday night.

All three were in floor seats. Robinson and McGrady were seated along one of the baselines, while Spoelstra was sitting courtside next to Michigan's bench.

Howard said he wasn’t unnerved having his former boss sitting right behind him the whole time.

“I wasn't thinking about it, but obviously I saw him. I was so locked in and engaged in the game,” Howard said. “To take away from his time and know that he has to prep for an important game tomorrow versus Detroit Pistons, it just shows that he's so selfless in so many ways and so supportive. What he has done and helped me in coaching has been special.”

In addition to Spoelstra, Heat assistants Chris Quinn and Octavio De La Grana were also in the building. Howard described them as “people that touched me and had an impact on my life and impact on coaching.”

Spoelstra addressed the Wolverines after the game and offered plenty of praise for Howard, stating he'd do anything to be in their position if he was a player.

"I sucked but if I was any good at your guys' age, I'd want to be sitting right where you all are right now — in this locker room playing for this guy and this program," Spoelstra said in a video posted on the program's Twitter account.

"He's the best mentor in our association. He was that way as a player. He's been my best mentor. As an assistant coach, he mentored me. He's bringing that leadership and mentorship and coaching to all of you."

McGrady, a Hall of Famer and seven-time All-Star, and Howard played together for three seasons with the Houston Rockets from 2004-07. Like Spoelstra, McGrady also spoke to the players in the locker room and shared a simple message.

“He basically told us to make sure we continue to create memories with each other,” freshman guard Frankie Collins said, “because 20 years from now when we look back, we want to have those memories we can talk about.”

None of the Wolverines were aware that McGrady would be in attendance. Freshman guard Kobe Bufkin did a double take when he first spotted him in the crowd, and grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones appreciated the chance to meet the two-time NBA scoring champion.

“It was awesome,” Howard said. “The brotherhood is real.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins