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Juwan Howard shapes his own version of Michigan with Heat culture in mind

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Howard knows what it takes to win at the highest level.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After Michigan punched its ticket to the Elite Eight by throttling Florida State on Sunday night, Juwan Howard’s phone buzzed.

Then it buzzed again. And again.

Howard’s phone has been doing this for much of his first two years as the Wolverines’ head coach, and his team’s NCAA Tournament run has only intensified that over the last two weeks. Having played in the NBA for 19 years and coached for another six, Howard has as many connections as anyone in the basketball world.

On Tuesday night, Michigan will have a chance to reach the Final Four for the second time in the last three NCAA Tournaments. Howard’s former teammates and colleagues haven’t been shy about letting him know they’re in his corner.

“I look at my phone right now as we speak, the text messages that I receive from former teammates, whether it’s from the Heat or from other teams that I played for, it’s amazing,” Howard said during a Zoom call with reporters Monday afternoon. “The support is real. Players that I have coached, were a part of the Miami Heat, have been extremely supportive throughout.

“… (Dwyane) Wade reached out last night. Chris Bosh always communicates with me. Every person that was a part of the Fab Five, including my other teammates at the University of Michigan. They all will be wearing maize and blue, supporting. LeBron (James), too. LeBron has reached out and has been very supportive. But the support is real and I’m very appreciative.”

While Howard is coaching his first NCAA Tournament, he’s no stranger to what it takes to win at the highest level. He won a pair of NBA titles during his time with the Heat, and he also used the waning days of his playing career and early stages of his coaching journey as an opportunity to study coach Erik Spoelstra and the legendary Pat Riley.

The result was a direct exposure to what’s now known as “Heat Culture” — a brand of NBA work ethic and unselfishness that separates Miami from the rest of the league.

“There’s so many things in the Miami Heat culture that really breeds success,” Howard said. “So I look at this program here at the University of Michigan, I would be a fool if I did not implement some of the things that I learned working with the Heat. There’s a lot of Miami things that have spread into the University of Michigan’s culture.

“It’s no surprise to me that our team has really enjoyed playing with one another and why our team competes at a high level and why we’re in this position we’re in right now, because of day one, all the work they put in practice. A lot of the things we do in practice are some of the things that I have witnessed in learning from the Miami Heat and also what I have taken away. Not saying I use everything, but I would be a fool if I didn’t use some of it because that franchise is a winning franchise.”

For NBA players looking to pad their stats, Miami probably isn’t the right destination. The same can be said of Ann Arbor at the NCAA level, as Howard and his staff have gone out of their own to establish a culture predicated on the success of others. Sharing the game was one of Howard’s main points of emphasis when he first took the Michigan job in May 2019.

Now, that philosophy has the Wolverines on the doorstep of the Final Four.