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Michigan’s Howard faces off against coaching mentor

The relationship between Juwan Howard and Leonard Hamilton goes back 20 years. Hamilton was in what would be his only season as an NBA coach with the Wizards in 2000-01. There were far more losses than wins as part of a 19-63 season but a friendship was built and Howard considers Hamilton a mentor.

“Our relationship runs deep,” Howard said. “I feel he has a great knowledge for just the game of basketball, people and his resume speaks for itself. Our conversations were very good. I learned a lot. I will continue to use coach Hamilton as a mentor, a father figure, an example of what great successful coaches look like on this collegiate level.”

Howard is famous for being part of Michigan’s Fab Five 1991 signing class, an NBA career from 1995-2013 and is now in his second season as the Wolverines’ head coach. On Sunday, their teams will face off as No. 4 seed FSU looks to continue its run in the NCAA Tournament and knock off No. 1 seed Michigan.

The coaches spoke little this week in press conferences about the similarities or differences in their coaching philosophy or style of play. Howard, 48, didn’t go into specifics but said he has learned through conversations with Hamilton, 72, and that he’s had an impact on his coaching career. 

“We’re two men that are able to empower young men to go out there and live their dreams,” Howard said. “And especially just to see what coach Ham has done for the program, for these young men that he’s been empowering for many, many years. Truly, I try to take something that I learn from him and try to implement to myself, because I’m a young coach that’s thriving to impact others, to be inspiring to other coaches, no matter what race it is. But it’s beautiful to see the impact coach Ham has had on me and others. He’s a great example. And he’s that way because he’s so pure. He remembered the times of the other coaches help pave the way for him and teach him along the way and he don’t mind serving and giving. And that’s why he’s so successful.”

One offseason, Howard visited Tallahassee, meeting with Hamilton and associate head coach Stan Jones. Like many coaches, Hamilton remains connected to his players through the decades and they often call or visit him.

“There’s no doubt that Juwan is the ultimate professional,” Hamilton said. “He’s a class act, a very bright, very intelligent. He’s such a humble person that he has a good relationship with a lot of people. But because he played on the team that I coached, he’s always given me that respect as one of his coaches, but over the years, we’ve established an even better relationship, where we’ve had conversations about a lot of things as it relates to our basketball program. 

“Anytime I get a chance to watch his team play, I do and I root for him, and I’ll be rooting hard for him with the exception of when we play on Sunday. He’s one of my favorite people in the business because I know what he stands for as a person. He represents all the qualities that I think the people at Michigan can be very proud of.”

Howard retired from the Miami Heat in 2013 and immediately jumped into coaching with the team as part of Erik Spoelstra’s staff. His sons, Jace and Jett, have also played basketball with Scottie Barnes. Jace is a freshman reserve for Michigan.

“My boys and Scottie have crossed paths on the AAU level,” Howard said. “And then as they got older, Scottie, Jace and Jett played high school ball together at Nova. And they also won a state championship together. So they’ve been through the trenches. Scottie, he has a great relationship with me and my wife. We love Scottie. We of course admire his success thus far at FSU. And I’m so proud of him.”

One of the main pregame storylines in the FSU-Michigan matchup is whether the Wolverines will have Isaiah Livers, a 6-foot-7 forward. Livers averages 13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds. FSU coaches are preparing as if Livers will play.

“During the course of the year we had some other teams that had guys we didn’t know if they were playing or not, all the way back to Indiana,” Jones said. “With their starting 5 man, Joey Brunk, we put him on a scouting report, we show film of him, we talk about him in our in our practice drills and in our walkthrough stuff in the event he was going to play. The biggest thing we try to emphasize is the difference in his personnel strengths vs. the personnel strengths of who would play if he doesn’t play, just so you understand what you have to take away and where you’re trying to force people into doing things they’re not as comfortable. 

“We don’t make a big deal out of it. In fact, we always try to tell our guys, ‘We hope he does play.’ We don’t want them to have any excuses. We’re going to prepare the game like he’s playing. And if he doesn’t play we’ll have talked about the other guy and be prepared to play with what they do when Brandon Johns is the starting 4 man.”

Here’s a statistical look at Michigan:

Record: 22-4

Common opponent: FSU defeated Indiana in Tallahassee on Dec. 9, 69-67 in overtime. The Wolverines also knocked off Indiana 73-57 on Feb. 27.

Individual stats: C Hunter Dickinson (14.2 points, 7.5 rebounds), F Isaiah Livers (13.1 points, 6.0 rebounds), G Franz Wagner (12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds), G Eli Brooks (9.7 points, 3.2 rebounds) 

Shooting percentages: Michigan is very efficient, shooting 53.9 percent from the floor (39th in Division I), 38.5 percent from beyond 3-point arc (11th in DI) and 78 percent from the free throw line (17th in D1).

3-point shooters: Livers has made a team-leading 50 3-pointers. Wagner, Brooks, Chaundee Brown Jr. and Mike Smith each have made 30 or more 3-pointers. 

Familiar face: A transfer from Wake Forest, Brown has surpassed 1,000 career points.