ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It had been five years since members of the 1989 Michigan basketball national championship team were reunited in one place.
Brought back to Ann Arbor to reunite and celebrate their improbable run to the title back in the 1989 NCAA tournament, the players themselves made sure to have some fun, reigniting the bond off the court that the players say propelled them to heights greater than talent alone can achieve.
“It’s always a pleasure whenever we can get together,” reserve guard Demetrius Calup said. “That’s the diplomatic answer.
“But, for a little more personal (answer), last night at about 12 o’clock we had finished everything, I was playing on Facebook, tired, finally getting ready to lay my head down.
“I get a phone call; ring ring. My wife goes, ‘who’s calling you this late?’ I already knew -- Mike Griffin. Get to the bar now! Go down there, we’re up until four o’clock this morning telling stories. That’s what it’s like with this group.”
With starting point guard Rumeal Robinson on the bench in foul trouble Calup’s nine points in the final 10 minutes of play in Michigan’s opening game of the 1989 NCAA tournament against Xavier allowed for a run to the title under the most unlikely of terms.
Forward Mike Griffin, another member of the team oft forgotten for his contributions under the radar throughout his career, finds humor in his role as it’s remembered today.
“I think most people (when they bring it up) ask me who I am,” Griffin said with a smirk. “I’m probably the biggest trivia question for that team that, no one knows that I started.”
Sometimes lost in the history of the Michigan basketball program because of the years and controversy surrounding the ‘Fab Five,’ the 1989 Wolverines aren’t concerned about the publicity or place they hold in college basketball lore, knowing full well what they accomplished.
Still, the general consensus among the group is that the feat deserves some more recognition.
“I think we’re forgotten,” California native and former Michigan guard Sean Higgins said. “Cause when you see all the shows and they talk about the old final fours and give their props to teams, you never see us. You don’t even see Rumeal’s free throws let alone the run that we had.
“And so, I think when the University puts on events like this and you guys come and cover it, I think it gets out to the public and people start recognizing that.”
Losing their coach Bill Frieder just before the start of the NCAA tournament after Frieder accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State, promptly being told he could not coach the team the rest of the way by then athletic director Bo Schembechler, the Wolverines had plenty of reason to rally together and around interim and former assistant coach Steve Fisher.
But Michigan, who had experienced plenty of disappointment including an upset at the hands of division two Alaska Anchorage that season, perhaps the greatest motivation came from an embarrassing home loss to Illinois on senior day, the second time the Illini beat the Wolverines that year.
Meeting up with Illinois, a No. 1 seed, in the national semifinal in Seattle for the Final Four, Michigan rose to the challenge and a Sean Higgins put back in the closing seconds sent them off to Monday night against Seton Hall.
“It’s funny I was just watching it the other day with my brother-in-law who had never seen (that game) so he was sort of surprised by it,” former center Mark Hughes said. “But no it’s always fun to go back and watch it and get a chance to see guys like Stephen Bardo or Nick Anderson out on the road.”
“I think we were already motivated getting beat like we did against Illinois that last game of the season,” Higgins said. “But then when coach left that kind of took it to another level and so that’s where it lied.
“Once coach left we had a lot of incentive, we had a lot of struggle and adversity we had to overcome so it brought us closer together as a unit.”
Reflecting back on it, Higgins and the Wolverines don’t consider themselves to be just Steve Fisher’s team or Bill Frieder’s team, instead looking at it as a combination of both.
“You talk about Bill Frieder being our father and Steve Fisher being our uncle,” Higgins said. “That’s basically the scenario it was because Steve was always in practice and he was vocal, and Coach Frieder recruited us all.
“And so, that was something you have to give credit to; none of us would’ve been here if it wasn’t for Bill Frieder and Steve Fisher being the X and O guy he is, he put it all together for us in the tournament.”
Regardless of the added motivation that led to the close knit bond and focus for Michigan, the Wolverines would’ve had no chance at raising a banner if it weren’t for the NCAA tournament record 184-point performance over that six game span by senior and Flint native Glen Rice.
“I have no complaints,” Rice said. “I’d much rather they remember my teammates, the team. It’s easier to remember me because everyone thinks of the accomplishments I had.
“But the main thing I try and do is make sure they don’t forget about my teammates and the coaches.”
All of the off balance three-pointers and 30-point NCAA tournament efforts aside, Rice remembers that run and his team for one reason above all else.
“I think the one outstanding thing that stands out the most is how we came together as a team and as a people, brothers, and went out and achieved our goal,” Rice said. “And that goal was to shock the world and become NCAA champions.”