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Phil Martelli vows to be himself, says there will be an empty chair for suspended Juwan Howard

Martelli is ready to move forward and get Michigan back on track.

NCAA Basketball: Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard has been suspended for the final six games of the regular season after a heated exchange in the aftermath of UM’s loss to Wisconsin on Sunday — Howard smacked Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft.

This leaves Michigan assistant coach Phil Martelli as the man who will be filling in for Howard. Martelli, 67, was St. Joseph’s head coach from 1995-2019.

Martelli’s style, his coaching techniques aren’t that of Howard’s, and instead of trying to mimic Howard, he’s going to lean into what he knows.

“I am not Juwan Howard and I’m going to be me. So, you know, a small thing, I’ve never sat down during a game,” Martelli told the media on Tuesday. “So there’ll be a chair there, but it’ll be for him. It will not be for me. And I told the players that yesterday — that I’m not replacing Juwan Howard. What we have in place is the way that we’re going to play.”

Martelli went on to talk about how he’ll be different than Howard.

“I’m not being self-deprecating, but I don’t have the offensive mind that he has. I don’t have that in my coaching DNA. I don’t have a library of ATO (after time-out) plays like he has,” Martelli said. “I, like he, love practice. Practice is really the coach’s time. Practice is the coach’s time, right? It’s like the classroom. So, the professor’s time is when they deliver the lectures and prepare the plan, right? And then when the students take the test, there’s no professor. That makes it about them. So the great coaches make the games about the players, not about themselves. That’s what he does. That’s what I do. And the love that he has for his players is just extraordinary.”

Martelli said that he had trouble sleeping on Sunday night, thinking about the challenges/opportunities ahead, and how he’ll attack them. Martelli noted how big of a presence Howard is, but then he realized how he’ll have to move forward — just be himself.

“I tossed and turned on on Sunday night,” Martelli said. “And finally, I woke up Monday morning. It was really very clear to me. They didn’t ask me to be Juwan Howard. They asked me to be me. And you know what? I’m confident in that.”

14-11 Michigan’s next task transpires on Wednesday night against Rutgers at the Crisler Center. The Wolverines have no margin for error, they need to keep winning and they’ll be without Terrance Williams and Moussa Diabate, who were both suspended for one game for their role in the aftermath of the Wisconsin game. However, Michigan has a chance to embrace the struggle and the noise, or they can let it define them — the choice is theirs.

“Let’s move powerfully forward. Not just, ‘Well, let’s get Tuesday out of the way.’ I don’t know about galvanizing, but I do know this — that it’s clear to all of us, everybody involved, that we’re only doing this together,” Martelli said. “And to be honest with you, if we fail, we fail together.”