Juwan Howard was a star forward for the Washington Wizards during the 2000-01 NBA season, averaging 18.2 points and seven rebounds before he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks as part of an eight-player deal.
It was one of the most productive seasons of Howard’s NBA playing days, and it came under the tutelage of Wizards’ coach Leonard Hamilton.
Now, two decades later, Howard has his alma mater in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed for the first time since his own college career. And the only thing standing between the Michigan basketball team and an Elite Eight berth is Hamilton’s Florida State Seminoles. Now 72 years old, Hamilton has built a perennial contender at Florida State.
“Our relationship runs deep,” Howard said during a Zoom call with reporters Thursday. “It goes back to the time when I played for coach Hamilton when I was playing for the Washington Wizards. The respect that I have for a coach as a man as a father and also as a coach, obviously, during his time coaching University of Miami as well as Florida State. He’s had amazing success, great knowledge for the game of basketball, people and his resume speaks for himself.”
After Howard was initially hired last May, Hamilton was one of the first people he visited. Howard used the opportunity to pick his mentor’s brain, just as he did when he visited former Michigan coach John Beilein.
At the time, Howard had never coached a college basketball game. Hamilton, on the other hand, was a veteran NCAA coach, having established successful programs at Oklahoma State, Miami and Florida State.
“Our conversations were very good,” Howard said. “I learned a lot. I will continue to use coach Hamilton as a mentor, a father figure, an example of what great successful coaches look like on this collegiate level.”
Beyond Hamilton, there’s another element of familiarity with the Seminoles for Howard. Florida State star freshman Scottie Barnes grew up in the Sunshine State, where he crossed paths with Howard’s two youngest sons, Jace and Jett, on the AAU circuit. Eventually, the three of them became high school teammates and won a Florida state title together.
“Scottie and I have known each other for a very long time, growing up in the Florida area,” Howard said. “… Scottie has a great relationship with me and my wife. We love Scottie, we of course admire his success thus far at FSU. I’m so proud of him.”
Sunday’s Sweet 16 matchup is set for 5 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. While this season is Howard’s NCAA Tournament debut as a coach, Hamilton is no stranger to this stage of the college basketball season.
Whether or not Howard, who was named National Coach of the Year last week, can outduel one of his role models remains to be seen. Either way, Sunday’s matchup is only an added layer to their budding mentorship.
“As far as what I learned from coach Hamilton, I learned a lot,” Howard said. “I’m going to continue to keep learning because I have that growth mindset. He’s a great example. John Thompson, coach Leonard Hamilton, coach John Chaney and many others, those coaches are paving the way for a guy like myself and young other coaches that are coming in. … Coach Hamilton will always be that friend, father figure that I will always lean on.”