INDIANAPOLIS — The video had gone viral on social media even before Michigan coach Juwan Howard celebrated winning the 2022 NCAA Tournament with the players, and long before he hugged former teammates at Fab 5, Chris Webber and Ray Jackson as he made his way to the locker room. .
Howard was crossing the handshake line — the same kind of line where his actions had earned him a suspension about four weeks ago — when he stopped and kissed Tennessee freshman guard Kennedy Chandler.
Howard hugged and spoke to the very emotional Chandler after his 11-seeded Wolverines upset the 3-seeded Volunteers 76-68 to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight year.
“He told me to keep my head up,” Chandler said. “It’s tough for me, and he knew I wanted to get the win. I know him. I’ve been playing with his son since, like, fourth year. So I’ve known 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.”
It’s only fitting that so much attention was paid to this moment, considering what Howard endured after hitting Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft in the head following a heated exchange in the post-game handshake line on Feb. 20. This time, Howard wasn’t just showing good sportsmanship to the opponent, he was also acting as a father figure to Chandler because the Tennessee guard played AAU basketball with Howard’s youngest son, Jett. .
“Kennedy is an elite player, and he’s one of the best goalies in the country,” Howard said. “I got to know Kenny when my youngest son, Jett, and Kennedy played in the AAU. , and they won the LeBron James tournament in Ohio, so we had a relationship at the time.
“Just watching his growth, I’ve always been impressed. We signed him and unfortunately we weren’t so lucky. But to see the production, the effort, the growth and being able to produce like that on the pitch and how he led his team in a special way – I gave him words of encouragement. It shows his emotion, that he cares about him. As coaches, you appreciate that.”
Howard has been emotional at times since that incident in late February. The Wolverines played their last five regular season games without their coach, lost a double-digit lead against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament and came back from 15 points to beat No. 7 seed Colorado State in the first round. of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday before defeating the Volunteers on Saturday Michigan also won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-February.
“There was no doubt that this team is special,” said guard Eli Brooks, who scored 23 points. “We have a good group of guys who have the same drive, the same passion. the honor of Juwan, the coaching staff, find those guys out there that you love to be with. There wasn’t a second that anyone hesitated, and [everybody] Bought in the system, and we’re in the Sweet 16. So that’s good to see.
Howard, who led the Wolverines to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons as manager – the 2019-20 campaign was cut short due to the pandemic – celebrated the first-round victory with the former teammate of Fab 5 Jalen Rose Webber and Jackson were there for second-round support.
“It was a great time to be here and be with guys I’ve been in the trenches with, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, and then seeing my big brother, Mark Hughes, a guy who helped recruit me to come here to the University of Michigan,” Howard said. “Mark told me when I was in high school that my years in Michigan would be years that would turn me into a man; that if I keep staying here and growing, I’ll be very successful and become a champion.
“I will never forget this day and I appreciate all the support. They have, behind the scenes, been in my corner since day one.”