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INDIANAPOLIS — There is a common bond between Michigan’s Juwan Howard and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, and it came from the recruiting trail. During the last cycle of recruiting, the Vols went really hard at Juwan’s son Jett, who was close to picking the Vols over his dad’s team. The mutual respect between the two coaches was evident on Friday as they both discussed the process.
Jett Howard was a 2022 prospect that Rick Barnes decided to go after, even though he knew it would be a tough pull getting him away from Michigan and his father. But that didn’t stop Barnes from putting on the full-court press during an official visit Jett took to Knoxville this past fall.
The elder Howard was unable to make the trip with his wife and son to Knoxville due to hosting a 5-star prospect at Michigan. But once he spoke with his wife about the visit, Juwan started to get a little nervous about what his son might end up doing.
“My wife was more like the lead on that recruiting process. She is also there to help during the official visit. I remember I couldn’t go because we had an official visit lined up as well and a very important one that came out to visit Michigan. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to hear the recruiting process even though I had had some opportunities to speak with their staff and assistant coach and head coach, but having your son who now you’ve got to go through a recruiting war with one of the top programs in the SEC, and Michigan being Michigan, and I couldn’t come there as arrogant and say, hey, this is family, family gotta stick with family.
“It’s about him, and I wanted him to enjoy the recruiting experience, because he deserved it, Howard added. “He earned that right. Tennessee, being a great program, I left impressed with them, too, but my wife was too damn happy about Tennessee, and Jet was excited about the program and what they had to offer for his development, and he was truly impressed with coach.”
Rick Barnes knew it would be a very hard recruitment, especially trying to steal away a key player who was also the son of a Power-5 head coach. But the respect between the two coaches was evident from the beginning, most importantly when a lot of other schools weren’t recruiting Jett and Tennessee was one of the first to get the ball rolling.
“Well, when we went at it — I think a lot of people weren’t recruiting Jett at the time because — assuming that he would be with his dad, which he ended up being, but it so happened when we got involved it kept developing more. Got to know his family extremely well and Juwan was great with us and he didn’t make the visit when they came down but getting to know his family, just a wonderful family. Absolutely beautiful family.”
But Barnes understood the difficult decision Jett Howard was making and went back on a quote he was told very early in the recruiting game and overall life experience.
“I learned a long time ago that blood is thicker than water. I’m tell you, he has a great family. At no point in time did we ever feel like we were being led on. We felt like there was a sincere interest. But I get it in the end, my last conversation with Jett was a sincere one and I get it, you know? I get it. If I had a son I would want him to play for me. I get it. I do.”
It wasn’t a swing and miss from the Vols staff, though some folks will say that Jett was going to Michigan the entire time. I look at it a different way in that maybe the son took these official visits because he wanted to have options in case he actually didn’t want to play for his dad.
The real juice of this recruitment was the mutual respect gained between the two coaches that will square off on Saturday night in Indianapolis.