By John Healy
There was no hiding the emotions for Juwan Howard as he was officially introduced as the new head coach at the University of Michigan on Thursday.
The former NBA player and member of Michigan's "Fab Five" teams in the early 1990s was back at his alma mater in Ann Arbor, and as he approached the podium for the first time as the program's head coach, he began to break down in tears.
"Tears of joy," he said. "I saw I wasn't going to cry. I guess that's what happens when you're excited about something so special, to you, that means so much."
Howard, 46, helped lead Michigan to the national championship game in 1992 and 1993 as a freshman and sophomore alongside the rest of the "Fab Five": Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. It was unprecedented at the time that all five starters of the 1992 national finalist team were freshman.
Michigan lost both of those championship games, though, and the team was broken up after the 1993 season when Webber declared for the NBA Draft. Howard remained on the team for his junior year before declaring for the NBA Draft in the spring of 1994. He went on to play 19 NBA seasons with eight teams, and was an All-Star in 1996. He was an assistant coach for the Miami Heat for the past six seasons.
"Last time I had a press conference in this building was 1994," he said Thursday. "I declared that I was going to go to the NBA. I felt like I was letting down my teammates because I didn't do what I came here to do, which was to bring a championship to the university. A university I care so much about ... now let's fast forward 25 years later, I'm back."
Howard's return also marks a significant improvement in the univeristy's relationship with members of the "Fab Five," which was tense after the school removed the teams' Final Four banners following an NCAA scandal involving athletes accepting payments from boosters. One of the key takeaways from Howard's press conference was how to restore those banners back or, at the very least, find another way to honor those teams he was on.
"We worked extremely hard. We sacrificed a lot, went through a ton of adversity, earned every minute of it," Howard said. "That is something on the table that we as (an athletic department staff) will definitely revisit. We're not making any promises. That's all I can say at this moment."