A familiar face awaits Juwan Howard on Sunday when the Michigan men’s basketball team takes on Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen.
On the opposing sideline, the Seminoles are be coached by Leonard Hamilton. Hamilton, in his 19th season at Florida State, has led the team to eight NCAA Tournaments, going as far as the Elite Eight in 2018 when his squad was bested by John Beilein’s Wolverines. Beyond his time in Tallahassee, Hamilton has been one of the most visible faces in the game of college basketball for the better part of the past 40 years, holding a head coaching position at a Power Five school every season since 1986 with the exception of 2000-01, when he tried his hand at the professional level as the head coach of the Washington Wizards. One of that team’s star players?
“Juwan was the ultimate professional,” Hamilton told reporters on Thursday. “He always dressed appropriately, handled every little detail with the utmost focus and professionalism.”
The strong bond formed between Hamilton and Howard in Washington has continued throughout the years, especially when Howard decided to leave his assistant coaching position with the Miami Heat to coach at Michigan. When trying to decide what kind of team and culture he would create, Hamilton was one of the first people he called.
“The respect that I have for (Hamilton) as a man, as a father and also as a coach, obviously, during his time coaching University of Miami as well as Florida State,” Howard said. “He’s had amazing success, great knowledge for the game of basketball, people and his resume speaks for himself.”
Two years later, Howard has become one of the brightest stars in college coaching. In addition to producing results on the court — as evidenced by his 20-4 regular-season record, a Big Ten Coach of the Year award and an AP National Coach of the Year almost certain to follow — Howard has crafted a culture focused on family. Both his current players, as well as incoming recruits have bought into it, with Howard bringing the nation’s top recruiting class to Ann Arbor next fall. Many are surprised by Howard’s early success, but his mentor isn’t.
“(When Howard played), he had all those high-character qualities that you love to see in a basketball player and that same humbleness that he operates with,” Hamilton said. “The professionalism and his attention to detail, is what I think has really made Michigan an outstanding team. Juwan being Juwan.”
While the two share an incredibly deep bond, until the final buzzer sounds on Sunday, Hamilton will be Howard’s enemy. To reach the Elite Eight, the student will have to best his former teacher.
“We understand that Florida State is looking to spoil our goals and our dreams,” Howard said. “After the game is over with, we’ll embrace the brotherhood, camaraderie, friendship, family. But right now, it’s about the competition.”
Hamilton shares Howard’s sentiment, even saying that this will be the first time he has watched a Michigan game and not rooted for Howard. Once the dust clears on Sunday, though, Hamilton is giddy to see what his star pupil can accomplish at his alma mater.
“He represents all the qualities that I think the people at Michigan can be very proud of,” Hamilton said. “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.”