Michigan basketball's Juwan Howard has great relationship with Florida State coach, player

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Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read
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Juwan Howard will see a couple familiar faces across the court when Michigan basketball takes on Florida State in the Sweet 16.

There is Leonard Hamilton, one of Howard's former coaches and a long-time mentor.

And there is forward Scottie Barnes, a top NBA prospect who grew up playing with Howard's sons.

[ Here's what Juwan Howard had to say about Sweet 16, Florida State ]

Howard's personal ties to the Seminoles run deeper than perhaps any opponent the Wolverines have played this season. Of course, it won't change the way he coaches in Sunday's game.

“Once the game starts, you’re locked into your opponent,” Howard said. “I know that they’re looking forward to going out there and competing. They don’t care if it’s me or no one else, they know that they have goals in front of them, and we have goals in front of us.

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard celebrates as he walks off the court after a second-round game against LSU in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium Monday, March 22, 2021, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 86-78. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Michigan head coach Juwan Howard celebrates as he walks off the court after a second-round game against LSU in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium Monday, March 22, 2021, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 86-78. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

“We understand that Florida State is looking to spoil our goals and our dreams. After the game is over with, we’ll embrace the brotherhood, camaraderie, friendship, family. But right now, it’s about the competition.”

Howard's relationship with Hamilton dates back to at least 2000, when the two crossed paths in the NBA. Howard was in what would be his final season with the Washington Wizards, the team that had drafted him fifth overall out of Michigan in 1994. Hamilton was in his first — and ultimately last — year as the Wizards' head coach.

Although the two were only in Washington together for one season, Hamilton developed a healthy respect for Howard based on the way he carried himself.

[ Juwan Howard is a finalist for Naismith Coach of the Year award ]

“Juwan was the ultimate professional,” Hamilton said Thursday morning. “He always dressed appropriately, handled every little detail with the utmost focus and professionalism. He dressed like a professional. Even down to what he ate. How much rest he got. How focused he was in the locker room. His unselfish spirit. He had all those high-character qualities that you love to see in a basketball player and that same humbleness that he operates with, the professionalisms and his attention to detail, is what I think has really made Michigan an outstanding team. Juwan being Juwan.”

After the 2000-01 season, Hamilton returned to the college ranks. He has been the head coach at Florida State since 2002, making seven tournament appearances and reaching one Elite Eight (in 2018, where FSU lost to Michigan) and two Sweet 16s. Howard, meanwhile, continued with his playing career in the NBA and became an assistant coach with the Miami Heat immediately upon his retirement.

Yet the two never lost contact. In fact, Hamilton says, they only grew closer.

SHAWN WINDSOR: Michigan survives NCAA tournament scare, proves why it is class of the Big Ten

“Over the years, we’ve established an even better relationship where we’ve had conversations about a lot of things as it relates to our basketball program,” Hamilton said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s one of my favorite people in the business because I know what he stands for as a person. He represents all the qualities that I think the people at Michigan can be very proud of.

“And I think they need to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride because he’s going to take them to maybe even higher than some of those places that Michigan basketball has been in the past.”

Howard has cultivated a similar relationship with Barnes, a highly-touted prospect from Florida. In 2019, Barnes played for University School in Fort Lauderdale alongside Jace and Jett Howard. He previously told the Free Press that he grew “very close” to Howard during that time, with Howard providing advice during Barnes' junior season in high school.

When Howard accepted the Michigan job, he reached out to Barnes. And although Barnes was already deep into his recruiting process and ultimately did not give U-M very much consideration, it did not seem to have affected the relationship between the two.

“Scottie and I have known each other for a very long time, growing up in the Florida area, my boys and Scottie crossed paths on the AAU level,” Howard said. “As they got older, Scottie, Jace and Jett played high school ball together at (University School). They also won a state championship together so they’ve been through the trenches.

“Scottie has a great relationship with me and my wife. We love Scottie, we of course admire his success thus far at FSU. I’m so proud of him.”

Michigan Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard calls a play from the sidelines during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament against the Louisiana State Tigers at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 22, 2021.
Michigan Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard calls a play from the sidelines during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament against the Louisiana State Tigers at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 22, 2021.

It is somewhat fitting, then, that Howard will be coaching against both Barnes and Hamilton. He has been a mentor to Barnes, just like how Hamilton has been a mentor for him.

On Thursday, Howard compared Hamilton to other prominent Black coaches like John Thompson (whose passing Howard honored this season by draping a towel over his shoulder on the sideline) and John Chaney.

In Howard's eyes, those coaches paved the way for him and other young coaches across college basketball. And he is hoping to carve out a similar path for the next generation.

“It's not all about me,” Howard told TNT on March 23. “People that look like me, that played the game of basketball, that want to go into coaching someday — I can't mess this up. It's not just my path. I've got to be there and be successful for those guys, too, that are looking to be a head coach some day on the collegiate level.”

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Michigan Wolverines content.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball's Juwan Howard facing mentor in Sweet 16 matchup