Around one month ago, Michigan Wolverines basketball coach Juwan Howard caused a dustup in the handshake line with a Wisconsin Badgers assistant coach. Howard earned a five-game suspension thanks to the incident, which effectively rendered him through the regular season.
But with the Wolverines’ 76-68 upset over the Tennessee Volunteers this past Saturday, Howard found a reason to hold his head up one more time. And the Michigan coach shared that positivity with Vols’ guard Kennedy Chandler, who was sobbing as he met with Howard in the handshake line.
“He said to keep my head up,” Chandler said, per ESPN. “It’s tough for me, and he knew I wanted to get the win. I know him. I’ve played with his son since, like, fourth grade. So I know him for a long time. He’s a great coach. I love him. He told me to keep my head up and you played your heart out, that’s what he told me.”
Chandler’s vulnerable exchange with Howard in the handshake line was a redemptive episode for the Michigan coach, whose image took a hard hit after his altercation four weeks ago. Howard followed up his embrace of Chandler with words of admiration for Tennessee freshman.
“Kennedy is an elite player, and he’s one of the best guards in the country,” Howard said at the postgame conference (starting at the 2:25 mark in the video below). “I got a chance to know Kenny back when my youngest son, Jett, and Kennedy played in AAU, and they won the LeBron James tournament in Ohio. So we had a relationship back then.”
“Just watching his growth, I’ve always been impressed,” Howard continued. “We recruited him and unfortunately we weren’t that lucky. But to see the output, the effort, the growth and being able to produce like that on the floor and how he led his team in a special way — I gave him words of encouragement. It shows his emotion, that he cares. As coaches, you appreciate that.”
With Saturday’s victory, the Wolverines have made their second trip to the Sweet 16 in three years under Howard’s leadership. Chris Webber and Ray Jackson, two of Howard’s teammates from Michigan’s legendary Fab Five, were on-hand for the Vols’ defeat. Sports analyst Jalen Rose, another one of the Fab Five, was present for Howard two days earlier at his Wolverines’ victory over Colorado State.
“It was a beautiful moment to be here and to be with guys that I’ve been in the trenches with, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, and then to see my big brother, Mark Hughes, a guy that helped recruit me to come here to the University of Michigan,” Howard said. “I will never forget this day, and I appreciate all the support,” he later added. “They have, behind the scenes, been in my corner from day one.”
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