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Advantages, challenges for Juwan Howard at Michigan

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Juwan Howard
Juwan Howard (AP Images)

Juwan Howard is coming home to lead his alma mater, as the former NBA star who first drew acclaim as part of Michigan’s Fab Five in the early 1990s has been named the Wolverines' head coach.

While Howard takes the job with a wealth of NBA experience and plenty of familiarity with the school and program, there are certainly things he’ll have going in his favor and challenges he will have to overcome as he ventures into college coaching at the Big Ten level.

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1. Name recognition and experience 

A lot of people are focusing on Howard’s lack of experience as a head coach as a challenge, and that’s fair. However, I see a lot of positives in the experience that Howard does have.

First of all, Howard was a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school and a guy who went to the NBA early at Michigan. Sure, things have changed some over the last 25 or so years, but if there’s any coach in America that understands what a big-time recruit is going through and hopes to achieve, it’s Howard. Those same elements have allowed Penny Hardaway to thrive at Memphis.

An All-Star-level player in the NBA, Howard could have sat back and lived off the millions of dollars he made in his career. Instead, he’s worked his way up the ladder as a highly thought-of NBA assistant who has been in the mix for head coaching jobs. Guys about to land head coaching gigs in the NBA aren’t dummies, and any suggestion that Howard doesn’t have the coaching chops to compete is borderline laughable to me.

2. Familiarity with the recruiting world 

Howard hasn’t coached at either the grassroots or high school basketball level, but he’s certainly familiar with both worlds. His oldest son, Juwan Howard Jr., played college ball at Detroit, and his younger sons - Jace Howard and Jett Howard - are both Division I prospects. Howard has been around the circuit, he’s been on both the parental and player side of a recruitment and he’s likely much more familiar with today’s recruiting landscape than people realize.

Also, it won’t hurt that well-known guys like Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and even LeBron James are touting him as a guy who will do work. Does it get him players? No. But it certainly catches the attention of young and impressionable kids.

3. New energy and outside-the-box thinking 

Howard hasn’t been beaten down by years of toiling away on the recruiting trail, playing nice with other coaches and keeping rich boosters happy. When he walks into the basketball offices, he’s going to be walking in with a completely different perspective and a different energy than your typical first-time head coach. In my experience, I’ve found that guys like that tend to think outside the box and have a fresh take on how to run a program.


1. The Tom Izzo factor 

Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo (AP Images)

At Michigan, Howard is going to be facing stiff competition from Big Ten and national foes - and none will be tougher than his biggest rival’s head coach, Tom Izzo of Michigan State.

Look, Izzo is a hall-of-famer and has had Michigan State humming along at an elite level since he took over, and having to compete against him isn’t going to be easy. Especially in recruiting.

Over the last five years, Izzo has signed nine four-star-or -better players originally from the state of Michigan and the Spartans have already landed the state’s best rising senior in point guard Jalen Terry. Over that same time period, Michigan only recruited three four-star-or-better prospects from the state. If we expand it to the Big ten region, 83 percent of the Spartans' recruits have come from the area, while only 60 percent of the Wolverines' recruits have roots in Big Ten country. Flipping that around, if that’s the direction Howard hopes to go, isn’t going to be easy.

2. No body of work 

When selling potential recruits on coming to your school, being able to show them how you will play them and how they fit in your system is crucial. As of today, Howard doesn’t really have any body of work to show to players, and he doesn’t have former players that he can use as examples or whom recruits can talk to to find out what he’s really like.

Until he gets a chance to introduce and showcase his style of play, I think it’s the single biggest challenge Howard will have to overcome.

3. Bad timing puts Michigan behind in recruiting 

Last but not least, the timing of this coaching change is pretty bad. The 2019 recruiting cycle is pretty much done, and whether it be graduate transfers or high school seniors there simply isn’t much available and most of the players who are left would be considered reaches for Michigan.

The first order of business if figuring out if four-star wing Cole Bajema is a fit for what Howard wants to do and then talking him into staying committed. I’m sure Howard will also try to get former commit Jalen Wilson – who has set up visits with Kansas and North Carolina – to reconsider the Wolverines.