As his boys grew up, Michigan coach Juwan Howard watched them play one-on-one basketball against each other often. Freshman guard Jett Howard and junior guard Jace Howard’s matchups often ended in fights — the two were uber competitive.
Now at Michigan, the Howard brothers are together again on the basketball court. The fights, though, have subsided, instead giving way to competitive matchups at practice — matchups they hope will result in wins for the Michigan men’s basketball team this upcoming season.
And they are matchups that were years in the making, in the brothers’ growth from constantly butting heads to the best friends they are today.
“Growing up, I thought they really disliked one another,” Juwan said at Big Ten Media Days on Wednesday. “But that comes from the competitiveness. And then, as they’ve gotten older and matured, I’m hearing them say ‘man that’s my best friend’ and I’m like ‘man, we did something right as parents.’ ”
That maturity has already come into focus, with Jace having been named a team captain. Jace — who hasn’t seen much meaningful playing time yet in his career with the Wolverines — is now an elder statesman on a team with nine new players on the roster. He takes more and more responsibility in implementing the team’s culture and schemes towards its score of new additions.
One of those additions is his very own brother Jett, a highly-touted four-star freshman whom Michigan will rely on to be an immediate contributor. And although their matchups have become more constructive, they’re still fueled by competition on a daily basis. Competition that can lead to good-old-fashioned trash talk, just like their days on the driveway. It still keeps them from being able to face-off in true one-on-one basketball, outside of when they’re just matched up in drills at practice.
“We can’t play one-on-one, because there will be a fight,” Jace said with a laugh on Friday. “We would need three game officials for a one-on-one.”
Despite being split from one-on-one action on the practice court, the two love making each other better and spending time together. It’s only a seven minute walk between Jace and Jett’s places in Ann Arbor, helping their college experience constantly feel like home for the two. That seven minute walk, paired with their parents being just 15 minutes away, has made Michigan feel like home for more than just Jace and Jett.
It even extended a warm welcome to freshman forward Youssef Khayat, who hails from Lebanon — a lengthy 6,000 miles away.
“I love it, Jett and Jace, they’re great people … (and) the family is great,” Khayat said. “Even Ms. Jenine, Juwan’s wife … she welcomed me when I first came here. I felt like it’s a pretty good family, so I love them.”
The Howard family’s imprint stretches across the program. A head coach, a captain and a talented freshman all bear the Howard name. So everything they do is amplified. Their family’s authenticity helped recruit Khayat over Zoom — as he couldn’t make official visits during the COVID-19 pandemic — and their chemistry can be contagious on a new roster looking to jel.
But while Jace and Jett’s brotherly competition helps ramp-up intensity, the source of it comes not from the two guys who’d need three officials for one-on-one, but from the man who raised them.
“(Intense practices are) not because of Jace and Jett,” associate head coach Phil Martelli said. “The competitive nature in our practices comes from one man: Juwan. He creates it, and he insists on it.”
Martelli, however, recognizes that the two younger Howards take after their dad, bringing plenty of extra juice on the practice court.
“I set up the team’s practice (matchups),” Martelli said. “So I do that on purpose. I want them to play against each other.”
Since taking the helm, Juwan has always made ‘family’ a center point of his cultural philosophy. Now, his efforts on the recruiting trail are backing it up. He’s brought in two of his own sons, and a new roster that feels welcomed.
The Howards have shared a lot in life, and now, they hope to share success for Michigan basketball.