MADISON, Wisc. — One of Juwan Howard’s favorite phrases is “for competitors only.” The Michigan men’s basketball social media accounts include it as part of most every post. Howard wants his teams to compete hard for the entire game, every game, and never quit.
He doesn’t expect the same of his opponent, apparently.
On Sunday at Wisconsin, with 15 seconds left and Michigan trailing by 15 points, Howard had multiple starters on the floor playing full-court pressure defense.
That was his right, just as it was Wisconsin coach Greg Gard’s to call timeout when his five players were struggling to break said press.
That timeout, which lasted all of 30 seconds, was the seed that spawned a postgame brawl.
Both coaches were at fault, but only one threw what could fairly be described as a punch in response.
The play by play of the postgame incident — and what led to it — can be found here. In short, Howard admitted to not liking the timeout and telling Gard about in the postgame handshake line. “I’ll remember that s—,” Howard can be heard telling Gard in a video captured by an on-court reporter. (This reporter was with fellow writers in the second level of the Kohl Center.)
As for Michigan’s pressure defense? “They can do that, play the game all the way out,” Gard said afterward. “And we did the same thing by taking a timeout to help my players get organized.”
There are rules in college basketball, like the one that allowed a reset of the 10-second clock for a backcourt violation after Gard’s timeout. And there are unwritten ones, including those that govern how the final minute of a lopsided game plays out.
Both coaches arguably broke the latter. In the end, their decisions extended the game longer than either seemed to want.
But unwritten rules were not the reason Wisconsin’s athletic director joined Gard at his postgame press conference and called for the Big Ten to dole out punishment “swiftly and aggressively.” They were not the reason Michigan’s athletic director released a statement condemning his coach’s actions. They were not the reason the Big Ten, through its statement, promised “swift and appropriate disciplinary action.”
No, those were made necessary by what transpired shortly after the game’s final buzzer, which included Howard striking Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft in the face.
Whether wearing a yellow “M” or a red “W,” individuals on both sides deserve blame for that. Gard was, to put it politely, misguided to believe in the heat of the moment he could convince Howard of his rationale for calling the timeout. Howard was content to deliver his quip and keep moving. Gard, in an attempt to offer his explanation, physically impeded Howard’s progress.
“I think that was very uncalled for for him to touch me,” Howard said postgame. He later added, “At that point, I thought it was time to protect myself.”
It was not the first time Howard offered a similar defense. During last season’s Big Ten Tournament, Howard and Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had to be separated during a stoppage in play. After a brief on-court exchange, Turgeon took a few steps in Howard’s direction, which enraged Howard.
After that episode, Howard said this to reporters:
“I don’t know how you guys was raised, but how I was raised by my grandmother and also by Chicago — because I was raised by Chicago and I grew up in the south side — when guys charge you, it’s time to defend yourself. Especially when a grown man charges you. That right there, I went into defense mode.”
So that helps understand where Howard is coming from, literally and figuratively. It’s not an excuse, and it’s important to note Howard didn’t use it as one that day.
He apologized to his team and said, “I’m always going to take ownership when I’m wrong and admit when I’m wrong. That’s not the right way how to handle that situation.”
After Sunday’s incident, however, Howard never even tiptoed towards an apology.
When asked Howard about his players joining the fight — Michigan’s Terrance Williams II and Moussa Diabaté threw punches — Howard said, “Unfortunately, it ended up like that. I didn’t like it being that way. But, you know what, I respect our young men for saying what they’re saying as far as we are a family, truly, but did not want to be in a situation where it escalated like that.”
To see remorse in there requires a microscope. For that, Howard was either let down by those around him or disregarded their advice.
So what’s next?
The Big Ten will review all available videos and conduct interviews with the participants. Howard will be suspended. The only question is how long. Multiple sources who are familiar with this type of incident speculated it would be multiple games, perhaps the remainder of the regular season. Michigan has five regular-season games left, starting with Wednesday against Rutgers at Crisler Center.
One source said that a suspension for the remainder of the season, including the postseason, would not be totally inappropriate.
The sources noted that Howard’s incident with Turgeon at the Big Ten Tournament likely will play a factor in the suspension. Howard has shown a propensity to go from 0 to 100 very quickly. Anger management could be part of his punishment.
Gard deserves criticism, and perhaps a suspension, for his role in the postgame handshake line. He did, after all, put his hands on Howard. One of his players, Jahcobi Neath, entered the fracas with bad intentions, punching Williams in the face to set off a second wave of hostility. Wisconsin strength coach Jim Snider stuck around the scene far too long and offered a “crotch chop,” a gesture made infamous by a professional wrestler, towards Michigan’s coaches. Gard, by the way, never apologized either.
This outlet covers Michigan, though, not Wisconsin. Howard, as he should, presents himself as a leader of the young men in his program. His postgame behavior, on the court and when failing to take blame or apologize, fell short of that goal.
His bosses noticed. Punishment is coming.