The tradition that’s attached to the University of Michigan’s football team is the envy of countless programs throughout the country. The history and the people that wrote it have helped engender feelings of pride and appreciation that perpetuate the standard of excellence that exists today. The shadow cast by the gridiron lore in Ann Arbor has often been hard for other programs to escape. Nonetheless, the sun has occasionally shined on the accomplishments of a number of other programs…and at one time that certainly was the case for basketball.
Lost in the shame and despondency of the Ed Martin years were memories of the rich legacy of those that played in years past on the hardwood in Ann Arbor. The youthful indiscretions of Webber, Taylor, Traylor, and Bullock sullied the reputation of the program and made people forget what once was. Then came Amaker and his staff into a situation in need of overwhelming repair. Hailing from a program as prestigious as Duke and with an impeccable model in the football program next door, the new coach set forth to marry his regime with the abundant tradition of the past and remind people that at one time, Michigan basketball was something to be proud of.
One way to link with the past was to bring some of the former greats back and show them their importance to what is taking place now. For ten years the only jersey that hung from the rafters at Crisler Arena was that of Cazzie Russell. While it would have been a travesty for the jersey of the player whom most consider to be the greatest in Michigan history to NOT be retired, it would have been just as much of an oversight to recognize him as the only one deserving of that honor. Amaker realized that, and over the past few years recognition has been given to those to whom it has long been denied.
First on Amaker’s list was Rudy Tomjanovich. Michigan’s career leader in rebounds (1,039) and three time team scoring leader saw the retiring of his jersey in February of 2003. One year later, Phil Hubbard became the third. Now the player with the single greatest tournament performance in Michigan’s history, Glen Rice, is slated to join the club this season. Hubbard, as well as many other players present at the annual reunion, indicated that bestowing that honor upon Glen was/is long overdue. “It’s a thing that this coaching staff has really worked on,” Hubbard said of recognizing former players. “They’re really making the effort to show and continue to build the tradition by retiring some of the jerseys. I know it was a great feeling for me. As for Glen, it was long overdue…but there was no one pushing for this to happen before these guys came along. Tommy Amaker and his staff are making sure guys get their due and Glen is one of the guy’s that deserves his due.”
If Rice himself thought this recognition was, to quote the great Sam Cooke song, a long time coming, it wasn’t obvious in his reaction. The former Flint Northwestern great was very emotional and appreciative when reflecting on what it all means to him. "It means the world to me,” Rice said. “Being here at Michigan and watching other players go through the program and be honored…to be even considered one of them is just a tremendous feeling. The way the Michigan coaches, the Michigan fans and the program has treated me so far, it is just an honor. What I try to do every day is to go out and represent Michigan the way it should be represented. To be recognized and honored is just truly special to me."
Glen Rice and Coach Charles Ramsey
Honoring Rice seems to be having somewhat of a transitive. By doing so, Michigan is also recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of that 1989 team…something that Terry Mills takes great pleasure in. “It’s unbelievable,” Mills said of Rice getting his jersey retired. “Glen has always been a personal friend of mine way back since high school. I think he definitely deserves it. It makes me feel a part of it because I was part of that team with him. For someone to finally get recognized…whether it was Rumeal Robinson or whether it was Glen Rice…we finally have somebody’s jersey up in those rafters to help people remember that 89 team. You always hear them talk about the Fab Five this and the Fab Five that. I’ve had people come up to me and put me on that team! (laughing) With his jersey up there it definitely helps give us some type of identity.
Tommy Amaker converses with former players
Gestures like retiring jerseys and having reunions are necessary rituals in building and showing a proud heritage, especially for a program recovering from hard times like Michigan. It’s like refinishing a piece of antique furniture or restoring a vintage Ford Mustang. Leaving them in their unpolished/obscured state only hides their true value. It is times like these when visual reminders of the rich history are most important. It’s times like these when seeing the people responsible for laying the foundation for the program speaks volumes to players that are too young to have any memories of them. And on the other hand, there almost can’t be a price put on what it means to the guys that did so much to build up what had been a dormant program. "It's absolutely fantastic,” said C.J. Kupec (1973-75) of the banquet. “As you can tell this thing has really grown in the last few years. I believe there is about 100 to 150 players alone that have RSVPed this year and that is more than we have ever had by a lot. It is just so great to be here. I ran into Cazzie (Russell) yesterday and played golf with Larry Tregoning. Then last night we had dinner at the Donald's Lamplighter and low and behold when I walk in there, but Campy Russell, Wayman Britt and Joe Johnson. It is like turning back the clock and you can catch up as if it was yesterday… this has just been such a good weekend. I really would like to thank Tommy (Amaker) for setting this up. It really means a lot to reconnect with all the generations in a very meaningful way."
Amaker’s appreciation for what this means should not be overlooked. It’s important because a disconnect is also something that can be perpetuated. If none of the former players are invited to and/or are willing to cultivate their relationships with today’s program, then none of the current guys will find it important to come back after they’ve moved on. “Having our current players see these guys speaks volumes,” Amaker said. “This is really neat. It’s vitally important to have your past linked to your present and hopefully promote that to the future. This is what our program is about…having these guys come back and be a part of this institution to honor them and to welcome them back. Hopefully they have a wonderful time and this is something we’ll see for years to come.”
For more quotes from former players on the reunion, click here.
Also, be sure to lookout for more from rice in an upcoming issue of GoBlueWolverine The Magazine
Other Notes from the banquet and on recruiting:
The current and future players were privileged to receive a lot of sage advice from their predecessors. Terry Mills has spent a great deal of time lending his knowledge to fellow Romulus native Ronald Coleman. “I’ve had an opportunity to talk to Ronnie quite a few times, Mills said. “I went to quite a few games. My best friend is assistant coach for them. I told him he’ll have a lot of fun, but also to be focused, be ready to work, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Speaking of being ready to work, that describes Jerret’s Smith’s demeanor perfectly. The Romulus PG, who laughingly admitted Mills was the only player in attendance at the reunion that he remembered, has lofty plans for this season. “I’ve pretty much just been working on my game because there were a lot doubters after my injury-filled year last year,” Smith said. “Working on my all-around game and hopefully trying to make a run at Mr. Basketball this year. That’s a big goal of mine. I want to win the state championship in my last year too. We’re working a lot harder this year. There are a lot of seniors on the team this year and we’re really going to try to win state. We look a lot better.”
Finally on the recruiting front, 6-9 Kurt Huelsman (2006) visited unofficially over the weekend. The St Henry (OH) PF/C listed early offers from Dayton, Duquesne, and Bowling Green, along with interest from other schools like Michigan, Ohio State, and Cincinnati. We’ll have more on him in the coming days.
Kendric Price reportedly had an outstanding visit to Vanderbilt over the weekend, (for more on that, click here), but as we broke in our premium chat and premium message board Monday evening, Tommy Amaker had an in-home visit with the Boston area cager that reportedly went very well. GBW will have more on Price in the days leading up to his Saturday visit.