Howard wants to unite Wolverines, Fab Five
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Juwan Howard expects his return to the Michigan Wolverines as their new head coach will continue to mend ties between the basketball program and the members of its iconic “Fab Five” teams of the early 1990s.
A little more than a quarter-century after he left the Ann Arbor campus for what turned out to be a 19-year career in the NBA, Howard was introduced as the program’s new coach Thursday.
He was part of an unprecedented recruiting class that led Michigan to a national championship game as freshmen and sophomores in 1992 and 1993. That group — famously known as the “Fab Five” — has had an awkward relationship with the school since NCAA sanctions handed down in the wake of their success on the court forced Michigan to vacate victories from those seasons among others.
The university removed the two Final Four banners hung in Crisler Arena during those years, but Howard said a discussion with university leaders about their return or finding some other way to recognize those teams is back on the table now that he’s returned.
“We worked extremely hard. We sacrificed a lot, went through a ton of adversity, earned every minute of it,” Howard said when asked about the banners approximately 20 minutes into his first public appearance after accepting the job. “That is something on the table that we as [an athletic department staff] will definitely revisit. We’re not making any promises. That’s all I can say at this moment.”
Former teammates Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Jimmy King all made passionate and public comments in support of Howard when it became clear he was a candidate to take over the Michigan job after former coach John Beilein left to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.
King attended Thursday’s press conference and said he was certain the group would be back together at a Michigan game sometime in the coming season.
“We’re not bringing any beef or drama here, anything that would distract from Juwan doing his best job here,” said King, who was wearing calf-length black Nike socks under his suit Thursday. “Immediately, it’s over. We will be here this year.”
Athletic director Warde Manuel, who graduated from Michigan shortly before Howard and the rest of the Fab Five arrived on campus, said he would be thrilled to welcome them back to campus. Manuel said the program was open to exploring ways in which it could honor that group, but he said pulling down the banners was a university decision. He also said he didn’t hire Howard as a way to reconnect with that era of Michigan basketball.
“Juwan Howard is hired to coach our basketball team and lead us to tremendous success,” Manuel said. “He’s not here to reunite and raise banners.”
Manuel said he chose Howard as the team’s new coach in part because of the passion he has for teaching and for his alma mater. Howard broke down in “tears of joy” when Manuel handed him a jersey with his old college number on it during Thursday’s press conference.
Howard said he woke up to 20 new text messages the morning that Beilein announced he was leaving the program. Howard, who has been an assistant on the Miami Heat staff for the past six seasons, said he was preparing to interview for the Minnesota Timberwolves job at the time but couldn’t keep his focus off of his old school. He said he was offered a position as an associate head coach in Minnesota but opted to turn it down for his first college coaching job at Michigan.
Howard said his biggest challenge in making the transition back to college will be recruiting and learning all of the rules that come along with it. Howard met with his current team for the first time in person Thursday morning and made a good impression. Forward Isaiah Livers said he expects Howard’s NBA credentials and his ties to a culturally significant and memorable college team will make the new coach appealing to potential recruits.
“He’s a serious dude,” Livers said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
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