May 20, 2024

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Juwan Howard returned as Michigan’s men’s basketball head coach Saturday and spoke for the first time about his recovery from heart surgery.

Howard had surgery Sept. 15 to resect an aortic aneurysm and repair his aortic valve. During a 15-day hospital stay, Howard reflected on his health, his team and his future in coaching.

“There are thoughts that I had in my mind, like, ‘OK, do I want to continue this journey in basketball and put my health first?’” Howard said following Michigan’s 83-66 victory against Eastern Michigan. “I took my time during the process. I’m just so happy that I found the problem.”

Phil Martelli served as Michigan’s acting head coach for the first 10 games while Howard transitioned back to an on-court role. Howard, 50, said he lost more than 30 pounds following his surgery and continues to do physical therapy three times a week.

“After the surgery was over, I was like, ‘Whoa,’” Howard said. “I felt like I got hit by a Mack truck. It took some time, 15 days in the hospital. In those 15 days, I got a chance to reflect on, how badly do I want to get healthy? Am I going to put my head down and be in a puddle and just feel sorry for myself? Or am I going to toughen up, roll up my sleeves and say, ‘There’s no time to start feeling sorry. Let’s figure out how to get healthy.’”Michigan's Juwan Howard to return from heart surgery on Saturday

Athletic director Warde Manuel announced Howard’s return Friday night while also announcing that neither Howard nor strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson would face discipline for an incident that occurred last week. The Athletic previously reported that Howard and Sanderson had a heated verbal dispute that resulted in a review by Michigan’s human resources department.

“I would basically piggyback off of Warde’s statement and refer to his statement,” Howard said. “I think it was clear. It was precise. There’s still a review happening at this moment.”

Sanderson was not on the bench Saturday and has not rejoined the team since the incident.

What Howard said
“I’ve been stubborn. I’ve been an athlete before. We’ve been taught to really suck it up when there’s pain that you feel. If you’re out of breath, take a deep breath and keep pushing yourself,” he said. “There was a time when I was out of breath and I was like, ‘OK, I know how I’m supposed to feel, and I’m not feeling normal.’

“I’m so happy I was not stubborn at the moment. I asked to set up a doctor’s appointment, and with that, finding something that really scared me. It’s really scary. I had no idea what I was truly facing. Basketball has been my life. To hear open-heart surgery, I was like, ‘Bring it on.’”

Howard is in his fifth season as Michigan’s head coach after playing 19 years in the NBA and serving as an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. He led Michigan to the Elite Eight in 2021 and the Sweet 16 in 2022, but the Wolverines missed the NCAA Tournament last season, lost star center Hunter Dickinson to Kansas and started 4-5 before winning their past two games.

Howard rejoined the team on the bench at the Battle 4 Atlantis and had been serving as an assistant coach before receiving clearance to resume head-coaching duties.

“To be there yelling and shouting and calling timeouts, drawing up plays … I remember the times when I was sitting in my hospital room and thinking, would I ever have that opportunity ever again?” Howard said. “I had so many people supporting me. I never second-guess that. That’s what got me through the process.”

Required reading
Juwan Howard returning as Michigan basketball coach after incident with staffer
Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard undergoes heart procedure, could return in 4-6 weeks
(Photo: Rick Osentoski / USA Today)


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