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March 09, 1966 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1966-03-09

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PAGE SIX

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

WEDNESDAY-MARVIVE i4.1!4a

PAGE SIX THE MICHIGAN flAtLY WI~flNI1~flAV UMADE'U 0 10~t

xr r4"IN1.47jtorzk , IvIt nvn . 7, lubb

11' Tradition...

Once

Upon A Basketball

Court

By DAVE WEIR and
HOWARD KOHN
(EDITOR'S NOTE:. This is the
first in a series of articles analyz-
ing Michigan 'basketball history.)
Where there is tradition there
is awe, and where there is para-
dox there is intrigue. But where
Michigan basketball is concerned,
there is more frustration than
anything else figuring out where
the paradox lets off and the tra-
dition begins.
There is a tradition and again
there really isn't.
Basketball once sat among the
peers of Michigan sports, but it
never ruled as king until the era
of Cazzle. There were champion-
ships (admittedly f e w) and
crowds, but the excitement and
thrills were never there in quantity
or quality.
Basketball Lethargy
In the past, Michigan has been
proud of its football team, spirited
about its hockey team and, well,
"unopposed" to basketball. Con-
sider that Michigan had only two
basketball Al-Americans-Bennie
Oosterbaan (1928) and John
Townsend (1938)-in the 47-year
span between 1917 and 1964 and
consider that Michigan went to
the NCAA post-season tournament
only once (1948) in that period:

that the only tradition to come
out of Michigan's first basketball
era was a leaky old fieldhouse is
entirely reasonable .. . almost.
But there is still the paradox.
During the fifties, when post-war
fervor changed the style of the
game in accordance with fast-
paced fan demands, the rest of the
nation and the rest of the Big Ten
responded with zest. But Michigan
floundered in doldrums. Its con-
ference record between 1949 and
1962 rates lower than the complete
records of the New York Mets,
Boston Bruins and Detroit Pistons
--a dismal 63-133 mark.
Then, in the early sixties, Bill
Buntin, Cazzie Russell, Oliver Dar-
den and teammates enrolled at
Michigan. Basketball took a me-
teoritic turn upward and the fans
have watched nothing but a big-
time winner since.
59 Years Ago
But to go back to the beginning.
The Wolverines had their first,
abbreviated attempt at basketball
in 1907-playing five games, los-
ing four and earning a suspension
from the Big Ten.
"It wasn't really a suspension,"
explains Elmer Mitchell, Michi-
gan's coach from 1917 to 1919.
"We actually withdrew from the
conference over a dispute on a
retroactive rule which barred

many of our football players from
playing basketball."
Michigan c o m p e t e d against
teams from the East during the
nine-year interim, but in Mitchell's
first year as coach the Wolverines
rejoined the Western Conference.
Once entrenched in the confer-
ence hardcourt whirl, it took only
four years for them to capture
their first championship and take
their first crack at building a
dynasty.
There was only one problem-
basketball in the twenties wasn't
a sport on which to base an awe-
inspiring tradition.
The Underhanded Plop Shot
Michigan played in the Water-
man gym on a court 70 feet long
(compared to 94 now), there was
only one man on the team over
six feet tall, players used the un-
derhanded plop shot and a "mass
defense" to keep scores in the
10-30 point range, the athletic
board regarded basketball as more
of a comedy than a sport and one
game even resumed posthumously
after the Michigan players had
taken their showers.
As Mitchell remembers the in-
cident, "We were ahead ly one
point with a few minutes left in
the inauguration game for the new
Michigan State gymnasium when
a # camera flashbulb exploded in
the stands. Everyone thought it

was the final buzzer . . . the fans
left and the players went to the
locker room to take their showers.
Only after the referees had round-
ed us up did we realize that the
game wasn't over. We went back
. . . State tied the score and it
took three overtimes before we
finally won."
Conference Games Too
MSU wasn't in the Big Ten
then, but the Wolverines were
winning conference spinetinglers
too, and in nine years (1921-1929)
Michigan either won or shared
four titles.
Up until 1936 the Wolverines
ranked second in all time Big Ten
play with 123 wins, 78 losses and
a .617 percentage. Only Piggy
Lambert's great Purdue teams
could maintain a better average.
Still the sport itself lacked so-
phistication and class.
There were inconsistencies in
the game. A player was once given
four foul shots because two oppo-
nents fouled him at the same time.
And until the mid-thirties, there
were stereotyped tactics like the
center jump after each basket and
delegating all the free throw
duties to one player on each team.
"Basketball was a minor sport,
rated about even with tennis at
Michigan," reminisces Mitchell.
The cagers finally did move out
of Waterman gym into Yost Field

House because the railing around
the second-floor c o m b i n a t i o n
track-stands was weakening. But
a Michigan basketball tradition
was still like space travel-only
for dreamers.
And then came the Bear Market
year of 1929 when Oosterbaan
graduated and Wall Street stocks
and Wolverine basketball victories
suffered a recession. From then
until 1948 there were no more
championships to strengthen that
glimmer called tradition.
Looking back, through the eyes
of the living legends around the
Ann Arbor campus, tradition-lov-
ers find excuses and reasons.
Michigan wasn't that bad . . .and
it wasn't that good ... and medi-
ocrity wasn't that inspiring .
BUT there were other factors.
Gridiron Domination
There was football .. . and the
athletic administration. Fielding
H. Yost had conquered the nation
in building up an unrivalled grid-
iron empire at Michigan, and the
cagers had so little to offer in the
way of anything that their field-
house was named Yost.
"Basketball was continually In
the umbrage," recalls Wally Web-
er, onetime coach, faculty member,
fan and all-around talking ency-
clopedia. "There was an aristo-
cracy of sports at Michigan, head-
ed by football, and basketball had
to pull itself up by its own boot-
straps."
Whether the athletic board em-
phasized football and deempha-
sized basketball is debatable, but
the fact remains that basketball
was a losing endeavor-financially
and otherwise. And in the words
of Fritz Crisler, athletic director
since 1947, "Winning always helpsI
a sport gain support, and we didn't
win at basketball."
Football Bureaucracy
Football was dr.awing the crowds
and nothing was more natural
than to build a new football sta-
dium and hire a staff of assistants
for the fulltime grid mentor.

Basketball, meanwhile, had to
make do with a part time coach,
like Oosterbaan, who spent half
of the cage session still assisting
in football. "There wasn't the de-
gree of specialization in basket-
ball coaching. Our basketball
coaches were primarily remodelled
football coaches who would start
basketball when football ended,"
explains Weber.
Or as Oosterbaan remembers,
"Our policy at Michigan was to
dovetail the coaches in other
sports into basketball, up until
the time of Ozzie Cowles (cham-
pionship year of 1948) who was
our first fulltime coach." Ooster-
baan coached between 1939 and
1947, one of the leanest periods
in Michigan basketball history.
Coach George
To quote a Detroit News clip-
ping from a Nov. 16, 1945, issue:
"Bill Barclay, assistant coach who
has been handling the basketball
team in the absence of head coach
Bennie Oosterbaan busy with
football. . ." Which might be
comparable to having George
Pomey in charge of this year's
Wolverines.
Why the double duty? "The
board didn't feel anyone else
around at the time was as well
qualified for the job as basketball
coach," says Crisler bluntly. "His
primary responsibility was to
basketball, though, and since re-
cruiting wasn't very extensive he
had time for football, too."
Weber expounds further, "Once;
you have a winning team and a
paying public you can justify
throwing money into a sport :for
coaches and recruiting." And to
quote Crisler again, "Remember,
basketball was just a secondary
sport."
Ozzie and Pete
Until Cowles' first and only
year as coach, Michigan had had
neither the team or the audience
for a long time. Pete Elliott, now
head football coach at Illinois,
and Bob Harrison were the ring-

leaders in the Wolverines' success-
ful attack on the crown under
Cowles. But the glory lasted just
that one year, and further demise
followed.
But to regress back to the thir-
ties and forties. The game of
basketball had added few things
to attract national attention.
Recruiting was still a dud.
"There wasn't the emphasis on
hard-sell recruiting anywhere, and
Michigan wasn't especially attrac-
tive to the great players, anyway,"
explains Oosterbaan.-
"Some of our best basketball
players came to Michigan as foot-
ball heroes," remembers Crisler,
who coached the gridiron' sport
during part of its saga. "And of
course the Big Ten didn't offer
scholarships for athletes, while
other schools did."
Strack a Terror
Style of play was still slow and
deliberate, too. Most players now
relied on two shots - the two-
handed set shot and the dog shot.
Michigan's current coach, Dave
Strack, was a terror for the Wol-
verines with his set shot in his
player years of 1944-46.
There were few fast breaks, no
pressing defenses and no dunks
because the players still weren't
tall enough. The main strategy was
to set up the top shooters behind
a screen for their set shots, or to
drive on the baseline for a half-
hearted lay-up.
"The game just wasn't that fast
and people often preferred to
watch hockey games . instead,"
offers Bill Perigo who introduced
the faster tempo when he came to
Michigan in 1952.-
Maroons
As late as 1943, though, Big Ten
team Chicago scored only 569
points in 18 season games, almost
200 less than Cazzie Russell has
scored so, far this year by himself.
That same year Chicago had only
254 points in nine Big Ten games
or six more points than Michigan
amassed against Wisconsin and
Purdue in two consecutive Satur-
days earlier this year.
"When I played," says Strack,
"shooting 35 per cent from the
floor was usually good enough to
win most games. Now we feel that
we should be above 40 per cent
to be even in the game." Compare
this to Mitchell's recollection of
9-8 scores and shooting percent-
ages of 20 or below.
Faculty?
The fans, except those diehard
valiants of the family and faculty,

were understandably not overly
enthused by the mechanical play-
ers with their mechanical plays.
"Through the years the crowd
support was always lukewarm.
Some nights you could shoot a
cannonball through the stands
and not hit a single basketball
fan," quips Weber.
"Human nature explains the
c r o w d s," offers Oosterbaan.
"Whenever we had a winner the
fieldhouse wasn't big enough."
But it wasn't often that Michigan
had even a contender through the
"dry' thirties and foities, and it
wasn't often that capacity crowds
went wild in the State St. monas-
tary, despite free admission.
"There used to be a inertia in
basketball. There was nothing to
get the fans moving . . . and the
crowds were blaze and unenthusi-
astic," enjoins Weber.
Hegel and Basketball
Tradition flirted with Michigan
basketball ... but whether it was
only historical myth or dialectical
athleticism is questionable.
At any rate, inertia took a year
off in 1948 with Cowles and then
quickly reappeared to haunt Yost
Field House for 14 more years.
This was perhaps the real paradox.
(Next: How, why, when, where
and what.)
Bowl Game:
N o Decision
Big Ten athletic directors have
taken no action on a suggestion
that the conference enter into a
post-season bowl game agreement
with the Big Eight, Big Ten Com-
missioner William reed said yes-
terday.
The proposal, made last week
by Bob Hyland, CBS radio vice-
president and general manager of
K1V4OX, St. Louis, called for. an
"Olympic Bowl" to be held in
early December between the Big
Eight's top team and the Big Ten's
second-place team.
Proceeds from the game, which
would be held in St. Louis' new
Busch Memorial Stadium, would
be donated to the United States
Olympic Fund.
Reed said he had submitted
copies of Hyland's telegraphed
correspondence to Big Ten faculty
representatives and athletic direc-
tors, but has not received any
comments from them on it

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