With 100,000 fans filing into Michigan Stadium, tucked in the corner of Crisler Arena's front stairs was the annual Michigan Basketball Reunion. More than 170 former players, managers and coaches came back to celebrate the program's tradition, to tell stories and rediscover the program's history by bridging generations of players together for one weekend.
U-M legends like Cazzie Russell, Wayman Britt, Oliver Darden, Phil Hubbard, Glen Rice, Terry Mills and Butch Wade all returned to mingle with their families and the current roster of Wolverines over a tailgate lunch before the Maize and Blue football game against San Diego State.
With all the Maize and Blue stories continuing up until the kickoff, a few Wolverines took time to reflect on the event ...
Cazzie Russell (1964-66)
On what this reunion has meant to him ... "Obviously, the first thing is nostalgia. You remember when you were here, this building (Crisler Arena) was not here, but looking at Yost Fieldhouse over there it brings back a lot of memories. Of course the other good thing about this weekend is I get to see all my old teammates, talk about the things that have happened since we left. You also think about the program now, and how Coach Amaker is doing a good job of getting the program back on its feet. There are a lot of things that go through you mind, a lot of wonderful things ... like you had a chance to go to a wonderful institution, be a part of the basketball program, and to see all the guys you played ball with over 40 years ago. So this is just so nice."
Wayman Britt (1973-76)
On the weekend reunion with his former teammates ... "I think it just brings back so many good memories. It is so nice to see all the classmates that you played with. I saw Campy Russell, Joe Johnson, C.J. Kupec and then Phil Hubbard. But then you get a chance to see and meet all the younger players and other guys that grew up behind us, and that is just a great, great feeling."
On Michigan getting another championship banner in Crisler ... "It is a great step. You can see the community as a whole starting to support the program again after all the stuff that happened in those few years. But I think people have seen that as a bump in the road and are moving on. Now that we have a solid team in place I think things can only continue to keep getting better for this program."
C.J. Kupec (1973-75)
On the annual basketball reunion ... "It's absolutely fantastic. 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 lo 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. It has also been a special treat for me this weekend because my daughter, who plays volleyball for Virginia Tech, is playing at the Michigan tournament. So, it is nice to see everyone, but it is also so nice to see her play three times. So, 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."
On the feeling he got from today's Wolverines winning the 2004 NIT ... "Absolutely. It was just so exciting to watch and see. First of all, Michigan deserves a good coach, a good personality like Tommy Amaker to lead this program and I think to a man we are delighted that he is here. The progress he has shown in his early tenure is phenomenal and to cap it with a NIT championship and to see where he has brought this program in a short period of time is just phenomenal."
Phil Hubbard (1976-79)
On what the Basketball Reunion means to him ... "This means a lot. A lot of these guys you don't get to see that often or have the communication. So, you get to come back and see everyone and that is just, and this event, is just such a good thing. Coach Amaker and his staff have really done a nice job putting this event together because it brings the tradition, all the older players and really just helps tie it in with the present day players. It is just unbelievable to see some of my teammates."
On what is one of his fondest memories from his days at Michigan ... "The one that really sticks out is going to the NCAA Finals (in 1976) because that is something that I thought was going to just keep on happening, after it happened in my freshman year. Even though it didn't keep happening for us that memory of that run and those games is just so special to me."
On what he thinks of the current status of the program ... "It just makes me so proud of what they accomplished last year. It just goes to show you that they are working hard. They didn't get to go to the NCAA, but they did go to a tournament and finished on a high note with the title. Hopefully that can carry over into this season and they can continue move towards that goal of getting back to the NCAA, which I know is something they want to do."
Glen Rice (1986-89)
On what it means to be a Michigan man ... "Let me tell you, when I was here at Michigan I knew we had a big following of fans and alumni. When I left I really found out how big it really was and is. Every state that I have been in I see numerous Michigan alumni. I have conversations with them all the time and take pictures. To me, that is just unbelievable. To have had an opportunity to attend such a prestigious institution is such an great honor. I am just trying to do my best to represent Michigan the best way I can."
On the reunion weekend ... "It's a great feeling. Looking at guys that I have heard about and watched to get an opportunity to meet them and get some photos to add to my all-time Michigan greatest photo collection, that is an honor. It is also great to see all my former teammates and to be able to sit there and reminisce about our playing days, the championships and the friendships we still have to this day. Weekends like this. This weekend ... it is almost like you can't even really put it into words."
Gavin Groninger (2000-03)
On coming back to the Basketball Reunion ... "It is great to be back in Ann Arbor. Being back with all the past and present players is truly something that I now look forward to every year. It is such a special bond that we all have being part of Michigan. I am only two years removed so I am not the oldest player out here, but coming back here makes you miss it a lot. There are a lot of memories around here."
On what he misses the most from Michigan ... "The main thing I miss is the camaraderie with my teammates. It's funny because you don't talk to them as much as you used to, but when you get to an event like this it all comes back together like we haven't been apart for a day. That is a really good feeling."
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423