Because of his NBA connections, Juwan Howard was the most logical and promising choice for Michigan basketball

Arizona State, Central Connecticut State, Georgetown, Grand Canyon, Memphis, Nebraska, Pacific, Portland, Temple, Utah, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest.

And now Michigan: all schools that employ former NBA players to run their college basketball programs. 

On Wednesday, the Wolverines agreed to terms with Fab Five legend Juwan Howard, who leaves his rank as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat in exchange for leading his alma mater in the post-John Beilein age. It will not be easy, and history portends a Wolverines dip in the years to come.

If Howard diverts that, he'll probably be as beloved as Beilein regardless of whether or not he can take Michigan to a Final Four. 

The hire is no surprise, not for Michigan and not for college basketball. Howard's name came up early in the search and was viewed by many as a real threat to get the job within the first couple of days after Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Michigan hiring Howard is a continuation of the pick-the-former-NBA-player fixation that's offered mixed-bag results over the past decade in college basketball. Other schools not listed above -- because they no longer apply -- include St. John's, Alabama, Tulane, FIU, Charlotte, NC State and UConn. All those schools tried with former NBAers only to see things get embarrassing at worst (FIU under Isaiah Thomas, Tulane under Mike Dunleavy) and irregular at best (UConn under Kevin Ollie). 

Michigan found itself in an unusual spot due to the timing of Beilein's exit. In mid-May, ideal candidates are not easy to come by. For Howard, who'd interviewed for NBA head jobs in the weeks prior, it was blessed timing. 

In terms of ginning up interest and morale for the fan base, Michigan could do no better than Howard. 

Wolverines AD Warde Manuel has, for the second time in his career, chosen to replace a program legend with a former NBA player. He did it at Connecticut, when Ollie succeeded Jim Calhoun. That led to a national title for the Huskies under Ollie (largely with Calhoun's recruits) and then eventually got messy. Ollie and the school are in the midst of litigation after his firing in 2018. 

For Howard, it's hard to envision any repeats of the Ollie experiment. Sure, a national title would be incredible, but that's obviously way too high a bar to set for a man who's never coached college basketball until this point. He does carry with him a strong reputation as a coach, though. He played 19 seasons in the NBA, making him one of the longest-tenured players in league history, then immediately went to the bench as an assistant upon retiring in 2013. 


From NBA to NCAA

Notable former NBA players who are coaching college basketball

Arizona State Bobby Hurley
Central Connecticut State Donyell Marshall
Georgetown Patrick Ewing
Grand Canyon Dan Majerle
Memphis Penny Hardaway
Nebraska Fred Hoiberg
Pacific Damon Stoudamire
Portland Terry Porter
Temple Aaron McKie
Utah Larry Krystowiak
Vanderbilt Jerry Stackhouse
Wake Forest Danny Manning

In getting the job, Howard beat out in-house candidate Luke Yaklich, another defensive specialist who had the trust of Beilein so much, he was given the reigns on guiding Michigan's defense for much of last season. The decision from the outside seems to be one made for sentimental reasons, if not star-power logic that often guides (in good ways and bad) coaching searches. Juwan Howard is a much bigger name than Luke Yaklich. 

But in spite of the uneven results over the past 10-plus years in college basketball, perhaps the change within the basketball culture will come to make hires like this one worthwhile. From the grassroots scene up through to the biggest names in the NBA, basketball's society has never been bigger  -- yet more connected in a small-world ethos -- than how it is now. 

From USA Basketball to NBA players funding travel teams, the ambassador-type nature of pros to preps is growing by the year. And so while we're still in the one-and-done era, hiring a coach with important connections to some of the biggest names in basketball can't be undervalued. 

The NBA's age-limit rule is still 19 years old and will remain that way until 2022 at the earliest, maybe even a year or two after that -- even perhaps indefinitely after that. While NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is open to allowing 18-year-olds to again leave from high school to play in the NBA, the NBA Players Association is going to have to sign off on that detail in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. You think NBA veterans, guys who are clinging to another year or two of making millions of dollars in their 30s, want to give away their roster spots to unproven 18-year-olds? Of course not.

juwan-howard.jpg
Juwan Howard played in the NBA for 19 seasons and was an assistant coach for six more. Getty Images

So while the age minimum could be on its way to going back to how it was pre-2006, there are still no guarantees. And with three years still remaining until a change is made, there's undeniable value in bringing in men to coach college programs who have ties to the NBA. Juwan Howard is not the greatest example, but he is the latest and his network is not to be underestimated. 

LeBron James trumpeted his endorsement of Howard's Michigan candidacy to more than 42 million followers on Twitter before the hire was official. A small sample of notable names who also publicly supported Howard: Dwyane Wade, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber. He had a horde of help. That kind of backing may come to be vital for Michigan's recruiting efforts. There's almost no doubt that the recruiting dominance of Penny Hardaway at Memphis, the returned cache of Patrick Ewing's Hoyas at Georgetown and the intrigue of Jerry Stackhouse's Commodores played into why this choice was made and why Howard himself thought it best for his career path to leave the pros for college basketball. 

There's validation for immediate optimism, but don't forget that Howard's about to step into a knotty situation. Michigan's lost the commitment of top-100 prospect Jalen Wilson, who was Luke Yaklich's lead prospect. It wouldn't be a shock to see Wilson pick UNC or Kansas over Michigan at this point. Plus, the Wolverines lost Iggy Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole to early NBA Draft entry, all three unlikely to double back to school.

When the season ended, the Wolverines had the look of a top-10 team in 2019-20. Now they're a hard sell as a top-four team in the Big Ten. Fortunately, Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers will all be back. It's not a barren ordeal, but it will be a tough one in Year No. 1 for Howard. 

Michigan's getting a quality man, a respected coach -- and an ideal. Manuel must see in Howard someone who has a desire to stoke the flames of the '90s, to redefine Michigan's life-after-Beilein reputation and to be a consummate blend of good basketball coach and powerful networker to the next level. 

Many schools and coaches have tried this before and failed. Some current experiments are ongoing. Howard's the latest to get his chance. Coaching pros is different from coaching college kids. He can succeed as easily as he could fail, but given how the way relationships have dictated so much of how the basketball world has worked in this new era, opting in on Howard is less of a gamble and more of a logical pick than some might have you believe. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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