As Juwan Howard approached the podium for his introductory press conference at the Crisler Center, he looked around the arena and into the rafters, trying to gather himself.
With his head down and his back towards to the podium, he was overtaken by his emotions. When he finally turned again to face the crowd seated on the court, he leaned into the microphone.
“It’s tears of joy,” Howard said.
As he battled back tears on the same floor where he once donned maize and blue to battle his on-court opponents, Howard left no doubt as to whether his passion had waned for the program.
His tears eventually became a smile as he seemed to come to terms with the gravity of the moment. According to Howard, this accomplishment is second only to earning his Michigan degree.
“It just made us even more excited, man,” said junior forward Isaiah Livers. “You got your head coach up there crying walking up, before he even gets called up there. That just shows that he’s going to put a lot of work in. He’s really going to push for his players to be great. He’s going to make –– even off the court, he mentioned that earlier –– he just wants our players to be good people on and off the court. No matter what you do, he’s going to support us.”
Added sophomore guard Adrien Nuñez: “That’s cool as well that he cares enough to even have that emotion. There’s not a lot of guys that would even go up there and have that emotional attachment to this university. So he’s definitely going to put his best foot forward in bringing the best assistant coaches, having us be as prepared as possible, so I’m really excited.”
Howard had been here before –– participating in a press conference at the then-Crisler Arena –– but the circumstances were quite different. The last time he was in a press conference in that building, he was declaring for the 1994 NBA Draft.
That moment was bittersweet for Howard. A promising NBA career beckoned, but fresh off an Elite Eight loss to Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of guilt.
“I didn’t do what I came here to do,” Howard said. “And that was to bring a championship to this university. A university that I cared so much about. … Now let’s fast forward 25 years later. I’m back.”
Over two decades removed from his last attempt to bring a national championship to Ann Arbor, Howard gets another chance –– a chance he could not pass on.
Howard said Thursday that he could’ve stayed in the NBA. He received an offer to be the associate head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but his mind was fixated on only one vacancy: Michigan’s.
Despite spending the week preparing for the Timberwolves interview, news of John Beilein leaving the Wolverines for the NBA allowed Howard’s mind to wander. Friends and family asked Howard if he would consider coaching in college.
“My answer has always been, there’s only one job, only one school I would look back and pursue at a collegiate level,” Howard said, “and that’s the University of Michigan.”
For Howard, becoming the 17th head coach in program history is a dream come true. His zeal for the Michigan basketball program was on full display from the time he walked onto the court Thursday. For the current players and former teammates in attendance, Howard’s fervor spoke volumes.
“No, I’m not (surprised) because Juwan is not afraid to show –– you know, he’s a strong man –– he’s always been a strong person to show his emotions,” King said. “… None of that was fake, that was all real. He’s happy to be back. He even got me to tear up a little. I gotta keep my rep, but he’s killing me right now.”