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One of ‘Fab Five’ returns to alma mater as Michigan’s new basketball coach

Fred Jeter | 6/21/2019, 6 a.m.
Juwan Howard is a towering man facing a towering task.
Juwan Howard

Juwan Howard is a towering man facing a towering task.

Minus any head coaching experience, Howard has been handed the keys to one of college basketball’s premier programs — the University of Michigan, his alma mater.

“My heart is with Michigan,” the 6-foot-9 Howard said in his May 31 introductory news conference as the Wolverines’ new head basketball coach in Ann Arbor.

Coach Howard succeeds Coach John Beilein, who left the Big 10 school to coach the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Some retooling is needed. The three leading scorers on last year’s Michigan team have departed and one of the top incoming recruits de-committed following Coach Beilein’s departure.

Coach Beilein, who coached the University of Richmond Spiders from 1997 to 2002, was 278-150 at Michigan from 2007 to 2019. In 2018, the Wolverines reached the NCAA Tournament title game. 

Coach Howard has a tough act to follow. Wolverines fans can only hope Howard, the coach, lives up to Howard the power forward.  

In Coach Howard’s first chapter of Michigan hoops, he wore jersey No. 25 as a member of the famed “Fab Five,” along with Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Under then Coach Steve Fisher, the Wolverines reached two NCAA championship games and were 80-22 from 1991 to 1994.

Coach Howard, a Chicago native, went on to become an NBA All-Star with the Washington Bullets, now Wizards, in 1996 and earned championship rings with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013.

From 2013 to 2019, he served as an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. He has never been the lead man on the sidelines on any level. 

There is some uplifting news already on the UM recruiting front. Cole Bajema, a touted Coach Beilein signee from Washington, D.C., has re-affirmed his commitment to Ann Arbor.

Coach Howard is hoping his personal family ties and Michigan family ties will help him jump-start the Michigan program. Coach Howard’s cousin, 6-foot-10 Jaden McDaniels, has verbally committed to the University of Washington but has not signed. Coach Howard is hopeful on selling McDaniels on the Wolverines.

Then there is Franz Wagner, son of former Wolverine Moritz Wagner. Wagner is a blue-chip 6-foot-7 forward living in Berlin, Germany.

The hiring of former NBA luminaries makes for splashy headlines but isn’t always a winning ticket. Here are some examples where NBA fame didn’t translate to the NCAA.

• Chris Mullin: He stepped down at St. John’s University, his alma mater, following the 2019 season. Coach Mullin’s four-year mark was 59-73.

• Avery Johnson: The University of Alabama gave Coach Johnson the gong after a 34-38 record against Southeast Conference opponents in five seasons.

• Mark Price: Following a 30-42 record at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte from 2015 to 2018, he was relieved of his duties.

• Reggie Theus: The former NBA All-Star and the University of California-Northridge parted ways in 2018 following Theus’ five-season 53-105 worksheet.

• Kevin Ollie: After back-to-back seasons of 16-17 and 14-18 at the University of Connecticut, Ollie was shown the door.

• Mike Dunleavy: He was given a pink slip at Tulane University after going 4-27 overall and 0-18 in the conference this past season. By contrast, Coach Dunleavy was NBA Coach of the Year in 1999 with the Portland Trail Blazers.

• Donyell Marshall: He remains coach at Central Connecticut State University despite a three-year mark of 31-61.