When his team needed a spark 48 hours after a tough loss, Michigan coach Juwan Howard turned to a rival: Draymond Green, the NBA standout and former Michigan State star.
Howard said he used a video of Green badmouthing the Wolverines to help motivate his team ahead of their 69-50 win over the Spartans on Thursday, sealing the show’s first Big Ten title since 2014.
In the player video, Green said he hoped Michigan would “never” win a game, showing the intensity of the rivalry between the two schools.
“I had a nice little video that I wanted the guys to hear,” Howard said after the game. “I think they really enjoyed watching it and hearing the words that were said.”
The former Fab Five star and sophomore coach did not reveal details about the video or its origins, but his players said it provided a boost for a team that entered Thursday’s game in hopes of forgetting about the 76- home loss. 53 on Tuesday against an Illinois Squad that played without Ayo Dosunmu.
“It felt amazing and then it’s even sweeter to do it against Michigan State,” said Mike Smith, a Columbia transfer who scored nine points in the victory, his first game between Michigan and Michigan State. “The coach showed us a video of Draymond Green. He was just saying he wished we would never win a game. That shows how aggressive this matchup is.”
Howard, now a strong contender for national coach of the year after leading his team to their first Big Ten title in seven years, has lived up to the hype, demonstrated by this season’s streak and success in the recruiting route. The team’s two losses this season, in Minnesota in January and Tuesday against Illinois, feel like outliers for a program that is projected as the top seed on Sunday’s selection.
“It’s gratifying,” Howard said of his team’s conference title race, which included a three-week hiatus due to health and safety protocols for the coronavirus. “We didn’t make excuses. We rolled up our sleeves and found out along the way. A lot of things were thrown our way, but we didn’t make excuses for it.”
Isaiah Livers, who withdrew from the NBA draft last summer and returned to Michigan, kissed the Crisler Arena floor after going to the bench in the final minutes of Thursday’s game. The senior said the Wolverines’ “journey” is not over because they have bigger dreams they hope to achieve in the coming weeks, including a national championship.
“The Big Ten title … is a great achievement for me,” Livers said after the game. “We all play like brothers. I want the witty [national championship], as well. We’re going to win a Big Ten championship, race March Madness and, fingers crossed, we’re going to find that nifty one. “
Howard chuckled when asked about using a rival to inspire his team, but he also added that he respects Green. When he was an assistant coach in the NBA, Howard said, he pushed Green away before a game and told him he respected the way he played.
“Draymond,” Howard said, “is a Hall of Famer, in my opinion, sometime when he’s done playing.”
On Thursday, however, the highlight of the Golden State Warriors was simply the motivation for an old foe.