‘I’ve done this before’: Martelli leads Michigan for Howard


ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — In a hallway in the bowels of the Crisler Center, an anxious Michigan Athletics employee walked Phil Martelli to the press conference. More than once she offered to help: Do you need me? Can I do something?

Martelli, his relaxed shoulders and confident demeanor, assured him that he was fine. And with that, he deliberately walked into the room and towards the podium.

“I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it before,” he said on Tuesday.

Martelli, 67, who has spent nearly four decades in high-level college basketball, will replace Michigan head coach Juwan Howard for the remainder of the regular season. Howard was suspended five games and fined $40,000 by the Big Ten Conference after hitting a Wisconsin assistant coach in the head during the handshake line following a loss on Sunday.

Martelli is aiming to boost the Wolverines’ chances in an NCAA Tournament bid after the team started the season with high expectations for March. His first game is Wednesday night when Michigan (14-11, 8-7) hosts Rutgers.

Now in his third season as Michigan’s assistant head coach, after 24 years leading Saint Joseph’s and 10 others there as an assistant, Martelli is no stranger to leading a team under pressure to finish. of the season. He maintained that his approach will be to continue on the path laid out by Howard.

“What we have in place is the way we’re going to play,” Martelli said. “I don’t have the attacking spirit that (Howard) has. I don’t have that in my DNA.

Assistant coach Howard Eisley will act as offensive coordinator in Howard’s absence, Martelli said. Eisley will call the sets a “really effective and massive” playbook that he and Howard have put together.

And Martelli made it clear: Michigan will continue to participate in postgame handshake lines.

“Don’t get rid of it,” he said, adding, “it’s not just about basketball, it’s about teaching young people lessons.”

Howard, a former Michigan standout and NBA All-Star who is the reigning Associated Press Men’s Coach of the Year, became angry after Wisconsin coach Greg Gard called a time dead with 15 seconds left and his team leading by 15.

The confrontation began when Gard grabbed Howard by the arm in an attempt to explain why he called time out. Howard yelled and put his right index finger in Gard’s face as the two began to argue.

After the two coaches were separated, Howard swung his right hand and hit Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft on the left side of the head with an open hand. Players from both sides quickly got involved and a punch-filled scrum ensued.

Howard apologized in a statement Monday. Michigan’s Moussa Diabate and Wisconsin’s Terrance Williams II and Jahcobi Neath were suspended one game each.

Diabate is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, second best on the Wolverines and 9.3 points. Williams is a reserve striker playing 15.4 minutes per game. The Wolverines will look to bench players such as Jace Howard and Brandon Johns Jr. to replace that production.

“Brandon Johns is not Moussa,” Martelli said. “You can’t come up with a game plan and say, ‘Moussa has an average of 8.1; how are we going to get 8.1? That won’t work. … We need the best Brandon Johns to beat Rutgers, and that will be enough.

Martelli was the 2004 Associated Press Men’s Coach of the Year after guiding Saint Joseph’s to less than a Final Four win. He was 444-328 as the Hawks head coach, including seven NCAA Tournament appearances.

Martelli will coach the Wolverines in home games against No. 15 Illinois Rutgers on Sunday, Michigan State on March 1 and No. 25 Iowa on March 3, and a visit to No. °22 from Ohio on March 6.

Howard is expected to return for the Big Ten tournament, which begins March 9 in Indianapolis.

“I’m not Juwan Howard, and I’m going to be me,” Martelli said. “One little thing about me is that I never sit down during a game. So there will be a chair over there, but it will be for him. It won’t be for me.

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