San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, Michigan’s Juwan Howard coaching matchup evokes memories of Wolverines’ Fab Five

San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher reacts after a call during the first half against Brigham Young on Nov. 12, in Provo, Utah. (AP photo)

SAN DIEGO — There’s a lot for Brian Dutcher to absorb when he thinks back to the key role he had in recruiting Juwan Howard and the rest of the Fab Five to Michigan.

His fondest memory is forging bonds that will last a lifetime. The toughest is the firing of his boss, Steve Fisher — who so famously led Michigan to the 1989 NCAA title as interim head coach — although that led to the two reuniting at San Diego State and turning a laughingstock into a West Coast power.

Finally, there are smiles when Dutcher recalls his role in outfitting that trend-setting freshman class in those long, baggy shorts.

Dutcher will be back on the sideline at Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon when his Aztecs play No. 24 Michigan, where Howard is the third-year coach.

Ultimately, Dutcher is hoping his Aztecs (5-2) can get a resume win against Michigan (4-3), which is coming off a 72-51 loss at North Carolina.

“This could be a win that puts us in the NCAA Tournament. We have to approach it like that,” said Dutcher, who found out Wednesday that dynamic guard Lamont Butler has a broken left wrist and will be out for a few weeks.

It’s a business trip, for sure, but Dutcher, 62, said he’s looking forward to reconnecting with people he’s known for years, starting with Howard, 48.

Dutcher described his relationship with Howard as “Family. That’s what it’s always been with Juwan, whether it was his junior year of high school, when we first kind of got to know each other, all the way through the recruiting process, the three years we spent together in Ann Arbor, and then post-Ann Arbor, following his career as an NBA player.

“We’ve shared in each other’s lives and it’s going to be great to see him when I get to Ann Arbor and share some of those memories, but at the same time we’re going in there to try to win a basketball game and he’s going to do the same,” Dutcher said.

Dutcher said it was a “perfect storm” to get this game. After Kentucky pulled out of a commitment to play at Michigan, Dutcher reached out to Howard, who filled the slot with the Aztecs.

Howard said he began bonding with Dutcher during the recruiting process when “I just saw the purity in his heart that he really cared about me.”

They stayed in touch during Howard’s career as an NBA player and assistant coach, and Howard has visited Dutcher and his family in San Diego, as well as Fisher and his family.

“They are genuinely family of mine,” Howard said. “When we compete on Saturday, we’re both going to be so locked in to getting our teams ready but at the same time it would never interfere with the special bond we both have.”


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