ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- They fielded an NCAA championship basketball team here before the celebrated Fab Five arrived. That group never won a national title, yet it was the style, attitude and enthusiasm of players such as Chris Webber and Juwan Howard that made wearing a Michigan basketball jersey a nationwide fad that remains to this day.
"My first two years at Michigan, with all the Fab Five together, we really had some great, great times," said Howard, now a second-year forward for the Washington Bullets, referring to the celebrated recruiting class of Howard, Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. "I felt once I left there I would never go back and play a game on the Crisler Arena court."
Howard has found that there are times you should never say never, because last night he got a chance to play again at Crisler, where the Bullets faced the Detroit Pistons in a preseason game.
Howard got a big ovation before the game and then scored 15 points, but the Bullets were beaten by the Pistons, 98-89.
"It felt real good. It let me know I was back home," Howard said of the crowd's reception. "The Michigan family is a very supportive group. I really appreciate all the support that I received."
It's homecoming week here, to be capped by Saturday's football game against Minnesota. But Howard got a taste of homecoming a bit earlier. Since arriving late Monday night, he has exchanged hugs, handshakes and memories.
"I'm excited about being back, but I'm going to treat it as a normal game," Howard said beforehand. "I'm not going to get caught up in the atmosphere, because then you try to do too much."
Michigan basketball coach Steve Fisher predicted Howard's feelings would change once he walked on the court.
"When Juwan is introduced, the reaction is all you need to know about just what he means to all of us," Fisher said. "He truly is a special person, and he earned that rank with how he handled himself while he was here.
"We've had a lot of good players," Fisher added. "But Juwan has been a Rock of Gibraltar in terms of the kind of person he is."
Howard was the type of person who, during his rookie NBA season, took correspondence courses to graduate with his class with a degree in communications, the only NBA draft early entry to accomplish that feat.
"I thought he was writing a book, because he was always taking notes on the plane," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "Only later did I realize he was finishing his degree."
Added Fisher: "It was a great accomplishment. . . . We're really proud of him."
They're also proud of Webber, and it was a disappointment that the Bullets forward was unable to play last night. Webber, who left Michigan after his sophomore season and two NCAA runner-up finishes, is about to begin rehabilitating his left shoulder, which he separated Saturday night. He is expected to miss four to five weeks of the season.
"They wanted to see Juwan and Chris, and I feel really bad about what happened," Howard said. "It would have been great for both of us to get out there."
Having enjoyed his brief stay here and the game last night, Howard said he looks forward to returning.
"It's been fun," Howard said. "While I was here with the Fab Five, we all enjoyed each other and we loved each other. Hopefully we can get all five of us out there on the floor one day."