November 2011 Archives

Cazzie Was Right Man at Right Time for U-M

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Here's an interesting question: If the Detroit Pistons had won the flip to see who got first pick in the 1966 NBA Draft, who would be the mayor of Detroit today?

I know that sounds a little out of the box, but that's the first thing that went through my mind Sunday when I read an article about Cazzie Russell's induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

The short story is that the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks had to flip a coin for the right to pick first in the '66 draft. The Knicks won and selected Russell. The Pistons had the No. 2 pick and drafted Dave Bing, a guard out of Syracuse.

The longer story is more convoluted.

Professional basketball was relatively new in Detroit. Fred Zollner brought the Pistons here from Ft. Wayne, Ind., in 1957, and the sport was trying to find it niche in the Motor City. College basketball, on the other hand, was just starting to realize the impact of television and racial equality.

At the time, Wolverine head coach Dave Strack already had the makings of a pretty good team, but he knew Cazzie could make this team a national contender. He made an all-out push to get Russell signed.

Today, head coach John Beilein would bring a young Cazzie and his family on campus. He would proudly show off the new Player Development Center, let them see the beautiful changes inside Crisler Arena and talk about Michigan's plans for expansion with a smile on his face.

Strack wasn't as proud of his facilities. He brought Russell in from Chicago's Carver High School, showed him Michigan Stadium then took him over to Yost Field House. He told him the facility was locked and he couldn't find his keys. Russell never did see the inside of Yost until he started as a student. It was a great move on Strack's part.

In 1963, Loyola of Chicago won the national championship with a thrilling 60-58 victory over Cincinnati. At the time, it was the largest TV viewing audience to watch a collegiate game. Loyola also had four black players starting. In the semis, the governor of the state of Mississippi and its state police tried to stop the game from being played due to an unwritten rule disallowing teams from Mississippi to play an integrated team.

As for the professional game, player recognition was important. The NBA used what was then called "territorial rights." If an individual played in or near the pro team's location, the NBA team could request the territorial pick from the league office. They wanted the same players who had made their mark at the university to make their mark with the local pro team.

In 1965, the Detroit Pistons used their territorial selection to take another U-M star, Bill Buntin.

Of course, the NBA would not allow a team to have that luxury two years in a row. But with Russell now available in 1966, the Pistons requested to have the pick for a second consecutive year. The NBA denied the request, and thus the flip of the coin took place with the Knicks getting Russell.

The Detroit Pistons and local Michigan fans were not happy. For three years, the name Cazzie Russell was synonymous with basketball in southeast Michigan.

In many ways, Cazzie was the Earvin "Magic" Johnson of his time. He was the player who could do everything -- he was a playmaker, he could shoot, hit the boards, handle the ball -- and he was 6-5. At that time, there were few if any players who could do everything Cazzie was capable of performing.

It was easy to see why Detroit needed his brand.

This Michigan team led by Russell was the first TV basketball team of its time. WKBD-TV, channel 50, was the first all-sports station in the city and Wolverine sports were one of its mainstays.

Each game was an event at Yost and on TV. The fans couldn't wait to watch the Wolverines even before tipoff. The Wolverines would run out of the tunnel, head straight for the basketball, and slam dunk as many times as they possibly could to fire up the crowd.

What Cazzie did for Michigan basketball is truly amazing. He put the Wolverines on the national map and laid the foundation for years to come.

The induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is a testament to his skills and popularity. He was an amazing basketball player and is still an amazing Michigan Man.

Congratulations, Cazzie!

We all seem to have a lot on our mind these days. Life seems so much more complicated. Not on a football Saturday though. It is a time to relax, escape and enjoy college football.

For some it is a time to give back to try and help others whose day-to-day lives are much more stressful yet so important to the way we live. This Saturday (Nov. 19) the U-M Athletic Department is having Military Appreciation Day to show its support and admiration for the all the branches of the armed services.

On a smaller scale, a group of tailgaters in the Crisler Arena Blue Lot parking area will do the same. On Saturday, they will bring together individuals from the 2-337th Training Support Battalion, also known as the Wolverine Battalion, to enjoy a tailgate experience and Michigan football.

This is not the public display of appreciation that everyone will see at Michigan Stadium. This is a show of appreciation by a few U-M Victors Club members who have been bringing together the Wolverine Battalion for almost three years.

It all started when Beth Bradley (U-M Athletic Development) received a request from a soldier's mom wanting to do something special for her son's command sergeant major, Marty Mieras, a huge Wolverine fan. The ball was signed and sent. The CSM was thrilled with this gift. Elated upon receiving the football, he noted he was coming back for some R&R.

"Beth asked us and another few families if we would be interested in hosting some members of the military," said tailgate crew member Warren Major. "We said yes and just kept it going.

"What's ironic is we didn't even have any idea the battalion's name was the Wolverines."

Other members of the tailgate crew are Warren's wife Cherie, Bob and Sally Elgin, Sarah Elgin, Bruno and Barb Jandasek, Brett and Krista Jandasek, and Herb and Linda Negendank.

Army reserve captain Joseph Sullivan, who works at Arbor Lakes and is contracted by U-M, and Bradley help coordinate the effort.

Military visit with Victors Club members at tailgate

It is not official; it is just something these families want to do to for the men and women in our military and especially those are returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Last year, we even had a tailgate on the road for all of them," said Major. "They have a Wolverine Battalion in Indiana too, and when we went down there last year, they even gave us a tour of their offices. Like the Wolverines here in Michigan, their offices are all painted maize and blue."

Selfridge AFB is the home for the local Wolverines, while the Indiana Wolverines are located in Camp Atterbury. (Currently, the Wolverine Battalion is headquartered in Waterford. It was moved from Selfridge after individuals suffered Legionnaires Disease in the building on the base.)

This year, there has been one appreciation tailgate, and tomorrow will be number two. The Wolverine Battalion is greatly appreciative. They gave the tailgating families a plaque engraved with the following words:

Award of Excellence for Your Support of the 2-337th TSB (2010) for Efforts and Enthusiasm and Generosity Greatly Appreciated by all of the Troops! Go Wolverines! Hooah!

Everyone responsible for the tailgate was also invited to the battalion's annual Dining Out Gala. There the tailgate crew was treated like royalty.

Next week at the Ohio State game, another member of the Wolverine Battalion will join the tailgate. First sergeant Mike Poll is coming home for a short R&R from Afghanistan. He's been there since May and will return to Afghanistan. His current tour of duty should end in May of 2012. He became a grandfather for the second time in October and will meet his new grandson when he's home.

This small tailgate crew is just trying to say thank you. Even before they can express it, the men and women from the Wolverine Battalion are the ones who are thanking them for opening up their hearts and making these Saturdays special.

Hooah to the men and women of the Wolverines!

A Soldier Gets His Wish