Howard said he used a video of Green trash-talking the Wolverines to help motivate his team prior to its 69-50 win over the Spartans on Thursday, sealing the program’s first Big Ten title since 2014.
In the video, per players, Green said he’d hoped Michigan would “never” win a game, showcasing the intensity of the rivalry between the two schools.
“He had a nice little video I wanted the guys to listen to,” Howard said after the game. “I think they really enjoyed watching it and listening to the words that were said.”
The former Fab Five star and second-year coach didn’t reveal specifics about the video or its origins, but his players said it provided a boost for a team that entered Thursday’s game hoping to forget about Tuesday’s 76-53 home loss to 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 grad transfer from Columbia who had nine points in the win, his first Michigan-Michigan State rivalry game. “Coach showed us a video of Draymond Green. He was just saying he wished we would never win a game ever. That just shows how aggressive this matchup is.”
Howard, now a strong contender for national coach of the year after leading his team to its first Big Ten title in seven years, has lived up to the hype, proved by this season’s run and his success on the recruiting trail. Both of the team’s losses this season — at Minnesota in January and Tuesday against Illinois — feel like outliers for a program that’s projected to be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.
“It’s gratifying,” Howard said about his team’s conference title run, which included a three-week pause due to health and safety protocols for the coronavirus. “We didn’t make excuses. We rolled up our sleeves and figured it 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 he went to the bench in the final minutes of Thursday’s game. The senior said the Wolverines’ “journey” isn’t over because they have bigger dreams they hope to achieve in the coming weeks, including a national championship.
“The Big Ten title … that’s a high accomplishment for me,” Livers said after the game. “We all play like brothers. I want the natty [national championship], too. We’re going to go win a Big Ten championship, have a March Madness run and, fingers crossed, go get that natty.”
Howard chuckled when he was 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 pulled Green aside before a game and told him he respected the way he played.
“Draymond,” Howard said, “he’s a Hall of Famer, in my opinion, at some point when he’s done playing.”
On Thursday, however, the Golden State Warriors‘ standout was simply motivation for an old foe.