Mag Excerpt: Catching up with Bill Frieder

In the Spring edition of GoBlueWolverine the Magazine, Sam Webb chats with former Michigan head coach Bill Frieder about the return to prominence of the Michigan basketball program, Trey Burke's place in the pantheon of great Michigan point guards, the memorable recruitment of Glenn Rice, and much much more.

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Sam Webb: You talked about the Gary Grant years and how good he was. We have heard a lot of comparisons.  People say this Michigan team is the best team since the Fab Five, or the ’89 team. I’m curious, going back to your years as coach, that ’89 team was the one that won the title, but there are a lot of guys we talked to that were around during that time and said that while that team claimed the prize, they may not have been the best team. You coached that squad. What do you think? I know they have the ring, they have the jewelry to prove that they were the best, but you know, all things being equal, if that team was to play one of your other teams on a court, would one of your other teams have come out on top?

Bill Frieder: “Well, there’s no question, the 1989 team was a great team, and that was the culmination of a decade of hard work, and when you look at what that team did in the NBA following, guys like Glenn Rice had a great career in the NBA, Loy Vaught, Terry Mills, played a lot of years in the NBA, and all five players played in the NBA at one time or another, so you know, that team won the national championship, and Glenn Rice was the most valuable player in the national championship game. I think you have to give them their kudos for that. Could they beat the Fab Five? Well, I don’t know, and history can go back and forth. You may say ‘well, no they couldn’t have beaten the Fab Five’, but the Fab Five never won the Big Ten championship. Fab Five didn’t win the national championship, and Fab Five couldn’t beat Duke and Carolina, and the ’89 team might have, so you know, all the experts out there can argue that, but you can’t take anything away from the ’89 basketball team. But they didn’t win the Big Ten championship, you know, and Gary Grant and them in ’85 and ’86 won back to back outright championships, so who would win with each other? That’s for the experts like you to figure out. All I know is the ’85 team was a great team, ’86 team was a great team. The ’86 team… the 16 wins in a row that this team this year tied, you could make comparisons with both of those teams. You had a big front line with Tarpley, (Robert) Henderson, (Butch) Wade, and (Mark) Hughes. You had great guards in Grant and (Antoine) Joubert and Garde Thompson off the bench. You had great shooters in Garde Thompson and Gary Grant, and you had a lot of depth, so you can fight who would win those games, but they’re all excellent basketball teams.”

Sam Webb: You mentioned Glenn Rice, who still has one of the epic NCAA tournament performances of all time.  I want you to take us back to Glenn Rice’s recruitment, because if I recall correctly, there was a guy named Roy Marble who was the more heralded guy out of Flint at the time.  He decided to go to Iowa, and then Michigan went after this kid, Glenn Rice, who I think some people were saying might have wound up at Central Michigan. Take us through that recruitment, and what you remember about Glenn Rice’s recruitment.

Bill Frieder: “I know that real well. First of all, let me go back further. In the early part of my career, Dan Majerle was a kid that signed in November, out of Traverse City, and went to Central Michigan. Had Dan Majerle not signed at Central Michigan in November, I guarantee you he would have ended up at Michigan or Michigan State, because people didn’t know how good Majerle was. I remember I went to see a kid I signed, Quincy Brewer, over in Benton Harbor, when they played Traverse City, and Majerle put 44 on them, and was clearly the best player on the floor, and so we missed on Majerle because he signed in November. The same thing could have happened to Glenn Rice. The only team that tried to sign him in the fall was Central Michigan, and Glenn Rice came very close to signing with Central Michigan, but he didn’t; and like you said, we were recruiting Marble and Lowell Hamilton went to Illinois, and a kid named Melvin McCants, and we missed on all three of them in the fall, and fell back on Glenn Rice as he got better and better and better and better and better, and then we ended up getting  him in the fall, so you know, you have to be a little lucky in the business, too, and that was a stroke of a little luck that Glenn Rice didn’t sign in the fall.”

Sam Webb: I have to ask you about some Bill Frieder recruiting stories. I go in gyms today, and they say ‘man, you know, Bill Frieder used to be at one game to start, all the players would know he was there’, and then in the second half, guys in another gym say ‘hey, Bill Frieder is here, this guy’s everywhere’, because you had been to two games in the same day. First of all, is that a true sort of deal? Did you actually used to do that, go to one game first half, another game the second half, and did you have people fooled? Did they think you were at the game the whole time in both places?

Bill Frieder: “Well, yeah, I could figure a way to get to five games in five different cities, and even Tom Izzo, who’s a tremendous friend of mine, and he’s paid me a lot of respect, and became a great friend when some people at Michigan weren’t friends, and one of the things he said when he became head coach is that he was going to recruit the state of Michigan, and he was going to recruit like Bill Frieder, and last time I was with Izzo a year ago, when they played out in Phoenix, he said ‘you know, I tried to pattern my recruiting under Bill Frieder, but I still haven’t gotten to five games in five different cities like he did’. No, I did, I would recruit relentlessly, and that was one of the things I thought helped me get players, was just relentless. I remember I never missed a game of Tim McCormick’s when we were recruiting him, and in the old days, you know, when they didn’t have restrictions, I can remember I signed Phil Hubbard in June, and I only at dinner at home two nights from January 1 until I signed him, like June 25, so yeah, I was on the road, and I worked at it.”

Sam Webb: How about this one? I was also told that every time you made your way to Metro Airport, there wasn’t a single time during Terry Mills’ last year that you didn’t stop by Romulus High School first to check in on him. Is that a true story?

Bill Frieder: “Yeah, that’s a true story. We started recruiting Mills when he was in the seventh grade, and – just like we did Jalen Rose, we started recruiting Jalen Rose when he was in the fifth grade, but we started recruiting Mills in the seventh grade, and our rule was, any time you went to the airport – and you had contact rules, which means you couldn’t talk to the kid or the family, but you could still go into the school. So we had a rule, when we went to the airport, we had to stop in Romulus School, even if it was just for two seconds, and when we’d come back from the airport, we had to stop in at Romulus High School. And all you had to do was peek in, and then the janitor would see you, or the secretary, or the principal, or the coach. It didn’t matter; the word spread. ‘Bill Frieder was in today, Michigan basketball was in today’. We must have been in that school three or four thousand times over a four year period.”

To view this feature in its entirety, along with our features on Michigan football legacy recruiting targets, our our review of the top 25 players in Michigan football history, our profile of Michigan quarterback, Devin Gardner, and much much more, check out the current issue of GoBlueWolverine The Magazine.

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