For the first time in over two weeks, Juwan Howard took a seat in the Crisler Center media room, prepared to address media members in the aftermath of his suspension for striking Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft.
Wednesday’s press conference was far from business as usual, though. The typically straight-faced Howard took on a different tone. He was thankful, remorseful, soft-spoken — as was to be expected after two weeks away from the position that he’ll tell you, unprompted, is “not a job” to him. He even teared up when discussing the job associate head coach Phil Martelli did in his absence.
“I am extremely happy about being back here,” Howard said. “Today was a wonderful day to get an opportunity to coach my team, who I missed so much in these past two weeks.”
For the entire 20 minutes that he spoke, Howard was very reflective. He quickly amended his wrong of not apologizing for his actions directly after the game against the Badgers. Sure, Howard had two weeks away to carefully craft those words, but he sounded genuine.
“I knew when I got back on the bus that I was upset with how I conducted myself in that moment in the press conference,” Howard said. “What I said wasn’t from the heart. As you know, the next day, after reflecting and thinking about it, that statement that I made came from the heart and that’s what I meant to say, and I apologize for my actions.”
Howard knows that for the rest of the season — and likely longer — the incident will hang over him. Whenever he argues with refs or gets called for a technical foul, it will be brought up. There will be a “big microscope” on him, as he put it.
So Howard sought to change over those two weeks, and not just to prove to others that he could. Time and time again, Howard made it clear that he wanted to change for himself, for his players and for his family.
“I was truly upset with myself during those two weeks,” Howard said. “I did some soul searching as to how I could improve. When I talk about the team being 1% better, that applies to me, too. So during those two weeks, I got a chance to do some soul searching, to evaluate how I can get better.”
Primarily, Howard went to therapy, a collaborative decision between him and Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel. It wasn’t the first time he’s done so, he said, and it won’t be the last.
But from an on-court perspective, Howard hopes he and his team learn a lesson from the incident and can fully put it in the rearview mirror.
“We always talk about how it’s important for our guys to be dialed into the competition, keep it between the lines and never take it where it’s personal,” Howard said. “Stay engaged into competing on the floor and when the game gets physical, make sure it stays within the rules of the game.”
Now that Howard is back, the Wolverines are, on paper, whole once again after a tumultuous couple of weeks. They survived without him, preserving their NCAA Tournament hopes with wins over Rutgers, Michigan State and then-No. 23 Ohio State. But none of that was at the top of anyone’s mind on Wednesday. Instead, it was all about Howard and how he would respond in the aftermath of his actions.
And after Wednesday, it’s fair to say he passed the test:
“I know I’m not a perfect person, and with the mistake that I made, I will try to improve.”