Michigan erased its most famous team. The victories were vacated. The 1992 and 1993 NCAA Finalist banners were taken down from the Crisler Center. The stars who formed the all-time recruiting class were never honored.
But history cannot be expunged. The Fab Five could not be forgotten. One of its own — Juwan Howard — would define Michigan once more.
“For me, it was a validation that the hatchet had been buried,” former Michigan teammate Jalen Rose said of Howard’s hiring as the program’s head coach. “There’s still some hurdles to get over and still some wounds to heal, of course. When you’ve accomplished what we’ve accomplished, there’ve been people who get statues and jerseys retired and put in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and for none of those things to have happened to our group, together or individually, it became the first step of, it’s OK to allow what happened in the past to stay in the past and everyone has moved forward.”
Finally choosing to embrace its complicated and incredible past may bring Michigan to an even more remarkable future.
In Howard’s second season back in Ann Arbor, he has led the Wolverines (20-4) to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since he was a sophomore. The 48-year-old was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year and is a Naismith Coach of the Year finalist, having led the team to its first conference title in seven years despite being picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll.
Howard, who took over for the winningest coach in school history (John Beilein), signed the school’s first McDonald’s All-Americans in 18 years, securing the country’s No. 1 recruiting class next season. He’s done it without any previous head coaching or college coaching experience.
“I can’t say I’m surprised, but I will say that it happened a lot faster than I assumed,” Rose said. “He’s gotten the opportunity and he’s seized it. If he didn’t, people would have been ready to pounce.”
Howard was the reason the freshman revolution happened three decades ago, the “lead domino,” the first recruit of the famed class —including Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — to commit to Michigan.
They were loved and hated, exciting and excitable, unprecedented and inimitable. They were the only ones who could understand each other. They were brothers — and one has to be the biggest.
“Juwan was a person in my life that was my age, but was like 10 years older than me, wise beyond his years and mature for his age,” Rose said. “You never saw him without a haircut. You never saw him without a crease in his pants. You never saw him back down to anybody. He was ferocious and tough and highly skilled. Juwan’s that dude.”
Howard starred in three of the most memorable seasons in Michigan history, an All-American appearing in two national title games and three Elite Eights. He played 19 seasons in the NBA, then spent another six on the sidelines as an assistant with the Miami Heat.
Then, Howard saw the shocking news on TV, learning Beilein was leaving for the NBA. Next came the once-unthinkable invitation home.
“I would never, ever have thought of something like that happening,” Howard said this week. “That was not the plan.”
Rose said that the Fab Five has communicated more since Howard came back to campus and that past friction within the group — most notably with Webber, whose acceptance of money from a booster led to NCAA sanctions and Michigan’s decision to disassociate with the team — has since dissolved.
“Hiring Juwan Howard ended any negativity. That’s part of building a bridge,” Rose said. “Juwan being back does put us in frequent touch because we’ve been in contact as a group together.”
In 2013, the former teammates reunited during Michigan’s national title game appearance. When COVID restrictions end, Rose is confident the group will sit together at another NCAA Tournament to support their friend and their school.
“That’s always the plan. That’s always the goal. To have the brotherhood in the same place at the same time, for the University of Michigan, for our supporters, for everyone that’s made us who we are, and for the people who believed in us when it wasn’t the mainstream thing to do,” Rose said. “It’s almost like when I look back at the journey now, we’re no Muhammad Ali, but I remember the way he was disliked and then when he became and beloved. As I look 30 years in the rearview mirror, I’m starting to see that. I accept it and embrace it.”
Saturday’s first round game tips off exactly 29 years after the Fab Five’s NCAA Tournament debut in Atlanta, where Ali invited the brash teenagers to his hotel room and told them to “shock the world.” Should the Wolverines make another run to the Final Four, a new banner can heal the wounds from the missing.
“Of course it would,” Rose said. “Because it’s Juwan and that’s my brother.”
Originally published at https://nypost.com/2021/03/19/march-madness-juwan-howard-healing-old-michigan-wounds/ on .