INDIANAPOLIS — The video went viral on social media before Michigan coach Joan Howard celebrated the 2022 NCAA Championship title with the players, and long before his former Fab 5 teammates Chris Webber and Ray Jackson embraced as he made his way into the locker room.
Howard was passing the handshake line—the same kind of line his actions had interrupted nearly four weeks earlier—when he stopped and hugged student bodyguard Kennedy Chandler of Tennessee.
Howard hugged and spoke to a deeply emotional Chandler after the 11-seed Wolverines teased the 3-seed volunteers 76-68 to move to the Sweet 16 for the fifth year in a row.
“He said to keep my head up,” Chandler said. “It’s hard for me, and he knew I wanted to win. I know him. I’ve played with his son since, like fourth grade. So I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a great coach. He told me.”
It’s only fitting that so much attention was drawn to this moment, considering what Howard suffered after he hit Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabenhoft in the head after a moving exchange in the post-game handshake line on February 20. This time, Howard wasn’t just showing off well. Sportsmanship of the opponent, he also took on the role of father with Chandler because the Tennessee guard played AAU basketball with Howard’s youngest son, Jett.
“Kennedy is an elite player and one of the best keepers in the country,” Howard said. “I had the opportunity to get to know Kenny when my youngest son, Jett and Kennedy played at Al Ain University, winning the LeBron James Championship in Ohio. So we had a relationship at the time.
“Just watching his growth, I’ve always admired him. We recruited him and unfortunately we weren’t so lucky. But to see the output, the effort, the growth and the ability to produce like this on the ground and how he led his team in a special way – I gave him words of encouragement. He shows his emotions, he cares. As coaches You appreciate it.”
Emotional at times is what Howard has been up to since that incident in late February. The Wolverines played their last five games of the regular season without their coach, blew a double-digit lead to Indiana in the Big Ten, and came 15 points behind to defeat the seventh seed over Colorado State in the opening round of the NCAA Championships on Thursday. Before defeating the Volunteers on Saturday. Michigan also won two consecutive games for the first time since mid-February.
“There was no doubt that this team was special,” said goalkeeper Eli Brooks, who scored 23 points. “We have a good group of guys with the same drive, the same passion. And that’s a credit to Joan, the coaching staff, for finding these guys you love to be with. There’s never been a moment where anyone has given up and away and [everybody] Bought in order, we’re on Sweet 16. So good to see. “
Howard, who led the Wolverines to the Sweet 16 for the second time in his three seasons as coach — the 2019-20 campaign ended due to the pandemic — celebrated with a first-round win with former Fab 5 teammate Jalen Rose. Webber and Jackson were there for support in the second round.
“It was a wonderful moment to be here and be with the guys I was in the trenches with, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, and then see my older brother, Mark Hughes, the guy who helped me recruit to come to the University of Michigan,” Howard said. Mark told me back when I was in high school that my years in Michigan would be years that would make me a man; And that if I keep staying here and growing, I will have a lot of success and become a champion.
“I will never forget this day, and I appreciate all the support. They’ve been behind the scenes in my corner since day one.”