When Jace Howard committed to the Michigan Wolverines over Brown and Princeton on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, it came as a surprise to nobody.
For starters, one of his final suitors was not like the others. The Wolverines appeared in as many national title games over the last decade as those two Ivy League programs did NCAA Tournaments.
But for a high-academic recruit like Howard, winning records only go so far. The chief reason Howard chose Michigan can be found in the background of his commitment video.
If you turn up the volume, Kanye West’s “Homecoming” blares. Howard’s caption of “I’m coming home” speaks volumes.
As Juwan Howard’s son, Jace’s childhood featured many pit stops en route to Ann Arbor. Howard spent multiple years with just two teams during Jace’s lifetime — the Houston Rockets (2004-07) and Miami Heat (2010-13). He transitioned to a coaching role with the Heat after retiring in 2013, where he spent six years prior to filling the vacancy in Ann Arbor left by John Beilein’s abrupt departure for the NBA last spring.
It was only a matter of time before Jace, too, made his way to Ann Arbor.
“(Jace) has always embraced Michigan,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “He’s had so much passion for the school Michigan because his dad has always talked about Michigan. He’s heard it in the household for years and years. … It just started from birth and so Michigan has always been his love. It’s been his, as kids would say, dream school.”
From a strictly basketball perspective, he comes in as the least-heralded prospect in the Wolverines’ 2020 recruiting class. With a handful of other forwards on the roster with more experience, it may take multiple years for Howard to crack Michigan’s rotation.
But when asked about Jace, Howard called it the opportunity to coach his second-youngest son a “blessing.” For a coach who stresses the importance of family within his program, coaching Jace brings Howard’s own fatherhood into focus.
“Dating back to when I was playing professionally, during the offseason, you only get a small window and I try to pour it into my family and give them the support,” Howard said. “Being present at a lot of their travel ball games or football games or soccer games. During the season, you feel so guilty because, even though you have home games, it’s an 82-game schedule. … You’re seeing your family in the house and watching (your kids) grow up but I wasn’t as active as I wanted to be and I thought I was being.”
After a taxing 25 years around the NBA that put a limit on his influence as a father figure, Howard knows what Jace’s four years in Ann Arbor can offer. And he’s not taking it for granted, to say the least.
“Now, I get a chance at a very important stage of (Jace’s) life to be available, to be present as he charters in this world,” Howard said. “Right now, he’s a young man. It’s my job to prepare him, when he leaves this campus, to be a man.”