Brian Dutcher never thought he would get the chance to travel across the country and take his team from San Diego State to Ann Arbor.
At least that was until, as Dutcher explained, a “perfect storm” happened. Kentucky backed off their commitment to play at Michigan, leaving the Wolverines to program a new opponent. Dutcher reached out to express his interest, the dates were lined up, and the trip to the Crisler Center was set.
On Saturday, Dutcher, a longtime former Michigan assistant who was on the national team coaching staff for the 1989 title, will return to the place and town he has called home for a decade.
“There will be a lot of familiar faces when I go back there,” Dutcher said this week. “It will be the people I see who bring back memories.”
One of these faces will be on the opposing bench to Juwan Howard. During Dutcher’s time alongside former head coach Steve Fisher, he was instrumental in bringing Howard and the rest of the Fab Five to Michigan in 1991.
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While the long trip will be a business trip and the Aztecs look to clinch a victory to boost their CV, it will also be an opportunity for Dutcher, 62, to reconnect with those with whom he has forged a lasting bond.
“Family. That’s what Juwan has always been,” Dutcher said. “Whether it was in the first year of high school when we first met, throughout the recruiting process, the three years that we we spent together in Ann Arbor, then after Ann Arbor after his career as an NBA player. “
Looking back, Howard remembered seeing Dutcher often on the recruiting trail and at Chicago Vocational School. He recalled the conversations they had when they first formed a relationship, noting, “I just saw the purity in his heart that he really cared about me.”
A momentous moment that stood out for Howard during the recruiting process was when Fisher and Dutcher came for a home visit. Her grandmother made her famous greens a staple in the Howard House, and watching the coaches enjoy her cooking was a highlight.
Since then, their relationship has grown steadily and they have remained in constant contact, even though the journey of life has taken them across the country. When Howard was traveling to watch his sons play on the AAU Tour in the summer and Dutcher was in the same town recruiting, they would get together and have a meal.
There have been times Howard has traveled to San Diego to visit Fisher, Dutcher and their families, including Dutcher’s two daughters, Erin and Liza, who will also be heading to Saturday’s game.
“They really are part of my family,” Howard said. “I’m just honored to be able to be one of the young men he’s helped to become a man. I couldn’t be happier, blessed and excited for the relationship we have both developed over the years. He will continue to be a part of my life and the lives of my children because that’s how special a man is, Coach Dutcher.
Dutcher’s connection to the Michigan basketball program predated Howard. Dutcher, a native of Alpena, arrived in Ann Arbor for the 1988-89 season when he was hired by Bill Frieder as an assistant coach, alongside Fisher. Frieder was laid off ahead of the NCAA tournament after accepting the head coach position at Arizona State and was replaced by Fisher, who led the program in a historic national title race and was appointed coach- head permanently.
Two years later, Dutcher helped assemble the famous recruiting class of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Howard who, as Dutcher put it, “changed the trajectory of freshmen in the world. college basketball “.
Dutcher and Fisher won back-to-back national title matches with the Quintet in 1992 and 1993 and an Elite Eight in Howard’s final season in 1994. The pair guided the Wolverines to six seasons of 20 wins and six appearances. at the NCAA Tournament in Fisher’s Full Eight. seasons at the helm.
Fisher’s tenure came to an abrupt end when he was fired in October 1997 after an investigation questioned his role in arranging free tickets for the late recall Ed Martin. The payments scandal ultimately led to self-imposed penalties that removed the Fab Five’s Final Four banners from the rafters and canceled five seasons of games.
“Obviously it’s more personal with Steve. He was fired and he’s never been charged with any NCAA violations,” said Dutcher, who remained in Ann Arbor for the 1997 season. -98 before joining Fisher when he took office at San Diego State in 1999.
“Michigan made what they thought was a good business decision at the time. No one wants their career to end like this. I never thought I would leave Michigan like this, but Michigan did. what he thought was in the best interests of the University of Michigan and we had to live with that.
Dutcher credited Fisher with rebuilding his career in San Diego, where he has spent the past two decades helping the Aztecs become a winning program. Following Fisher’s retirement in 2017, Dutcher took his place and led San Diego State to a pair of four-season regular season and Mountain West tournament championships. He also recorded his 100th career victory as a head coach last week.
Along the way, Dutcher has kept an eye on Howard and isn’t surprised by his former player’s rapid rise as a coach. Dutcher credited Howard’s meticulousness as well as everything he learned from every coach he had, from Fisher to Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra, to his success.
“He’s always been a leader, so leadership was never going to be an issue. It was just picking up all the X’s and Bones that he thought were effective in college play, “Dutcher said. “Then there is the recruiting. If you are an honest person, a good person, a caring person, then you are going to recruit good players. This is what he is and this is what he did.
“Now Michigan is reaping the benefits of having such a wonderful person and leader for the Michigan basketball program.”
Respect is mutual and deep. But come on Saturday, the link is going to be put aside for 40 minutes when Dutcher returns to the Crisler Center for the first time in 24 years.
“It will be great to see (Howard) when I get to Ann Arbor and share some of those memories,” Dutcher said. “But at the same time, we’re going over there to try to win a basketball game and he’s going to do the same.”
State of San Diego, Michigan
► Trick : 1 p.m. Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
► TV / radio: CBS / 950
► Recordings: San Diego State 5-2; # 24 Michigan 4-3
► Outlook: This is the first meeting between the teams. … San Diego State is fourth in the country for 3-point shooting defense (22.8%) and seventh for KenPom.com adjusted defensive efficiency (0.893 points per possession). … The Aztecs are led by transfers Matt Bradley (13 points) and Trey Pulliam (10.9 points) and will be deprived of starting goalie Lamont Butler (left wrist broken).