An anxious Michigan Athletics employee led Phil Martelli to the news conference from a corridor in Crisler Center. She offered her assistance more than once: Can you help me? Do you have any other ideas?
Martelli, with his shoulders relaxed, and his demeanor confidently, assured her that everything was fine. He then strode into the room, toward the podium.
“I know what’m doing. He said Tuesday, “I’ve done it before.”
Martelli, 67, has been playing college basketball for nearly 40 years and will be filling in for Juwan Howard during the remainder of the regular season. After hitting an assistant coach from Wisconsin in the head, Howard was suspended for five games and fined $40,000.
Martelli hopes to boost the Wolverines’ chances of a bid to the NCAA Tournament after they started the season with high expectations. Martelli’s first game will be Wednesday night against Rutgers (14-11, 8-7).
Martelli, now in his third season as Michigan’s associate head coach after 24 years as a Saint Joseph’s teacher and another 10 as an assistant. Martelli is not new to managing a team under pressure late in the season. Martelli maintained that he will continue following the Howard path.
Martelli stated that “what we have in place” is the way they’ll play. “I don’t have the offensive mind (Howard) has. “I don’t have it in my DNA.”
Martelli stated that Howard Eisley, assistant coach, will be the offensive coordinator in Howard’s absence. Howard and Eisley have created a playbook that is “really efficient and massive”. He will use it to call sets.
Martelli also made it clear: Michigan will continue participating in postgame handshake lines
He said, “Do not get rid off them,” and added, “This is more than just basketball. It’s about teaching young children lessons.”
Howard, a former Michigan All-Star and NBA All-Star, was upset when Greg Gard, Wisconsin’s coach, called a timeout. With 15 seconds remaining and his team leading by 15, Gard had already called a timeout.
Gard grabbed Howard at the arm to explain why he called a timeout. As the two started to argue, Howard shouted at Gard and pressed his right index finger into Gard’s face.
After the coaches had been separated, Howard opened his right hand and hit Joe Krabbenhoft with his left hand. Both sides were quickly involved in a melee.
Howard issued a statement Monday apologizing. Michigan’s Moussa Dibate, Terrance Williams II, and Jahcobi Nath from Wisconsin were each suspended for one game.
Diabate averages 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per games, which is second on the Wolverines. Williams is a reserve forward who plays 15.4 minutes per match. To replace this production, the Wolverines will turn to their bench players Jace Howard Jr. and Brandon Johns Jr.
Martelli stated that “Brandon Johns was not Moussa.” You can’t create a game plan that says, “Moussa averages 8.2; how are you going to get 8.1?” That won’t work. To beat Rutgers we need Brandon Johns at his best. It’ll be enough.
After leading Saint Joseph’s to one win in the Final Four, Martelli was named the 2004 Associated Press men’s coaching of the year. As the Hawks’ head coaching coach, he was 444-328 and made seven appearances at the NCAA Tournament.
Martelli will coach the Wolverines against Rutgers in their home matches. 15 Illinois on Sunday, Michigan State March 1 and No. 25 Iowa on Sunday, March 1, and No. 22 Ohio State on February 6.
Howard is expected back for the Big Ten Tournament which starts March 9th in Indianapolis.
Martelli stated, “I am not Juwan Harding and I’m going be me.” One thing I do not like about myself is that I don’t ever sit down while playing a game. There will be a chair, but it will only be there for him. It won’t be for me.”