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February 05, 1978 - Image 16

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Michigan Daily, 1978-02-05
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Page 6-Sunday, February 5, 1978-The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily-Sunday, Feb

'Starting tonight for-Huron High...

By Jim Tobin

AROLD SIMONS checked his watch. Ten minutes until
game-time.
Lockers slammed shut as the thirteen boys he coaches
prepared to play basketball. Tony Patton scrambled
out of one jersey and into another. Demar Loving made last-
minute alterations to his close-cropped curly hair. Warren Stel-
zer, the tall, bespectaled center, slapped a ball from one hand
to another, back and forth several times, to get the feel of the
slippery leather.
Simons, looking barely older than the smooth-skinned, lanky
boys lacing up shoes and tucking in jerseys all around him, made
a slight gesture. His team encircled him, shrugging shoulders
and flexing legs to loosen up.
"Is there anyone who isn't mentally ready to play this game?"
he asked.
Silence.
"Is there anyone who isn't physically ready? If so, let me
know right now." No reply.
Then they were running upstairs to Ann Arbor Huron High's
circular, domed gymnasium, shouting and slapping each other
on the rear end and bouncing basketballs on the shiny tile
stairs. The doors to the gym opened and the players were out on
the floor, racing through a warm-up drill as cheerleaders, Moms,
Dads, girlfriends-and maybe, those juniors and seniors were
hoping, just maybe a college scout or two-sat up and watched.
Coach Simons nodded grimly to the referees and said a word
to the team's managers. The starting players were introduced; as
each of Jackson High's starting five dashed to center court when
the announcer called his name, Simons asked his team quietly,
"Whose man?", and a hand would dutifully raise.
The whistle blew at center court and Warren Stelzer. his
features grim and his 6-foot, 5-inch frame tense, nudged up to the
Jackson center, then reached high at the top of his jump to tip the
ball to the Huron guards.
A quick basket for Huron, then a steal as Jackson came down-
court with the ball. A fast pass under the basket and suddenly
Erich Santifer had ducked under a Jackson defender, jumped,
twisted under another arm, and dropped the ball through the hoop
for Huron 's second score.
Jim Tobin is a former co-editor of the Daily.

' I, ERICH."
1.11" "What's happenin', Erich?"
*fl "How many tonight, Erich?"
~ Erich Santifer covered three rows of bleachers. His
elbows were planted squarely on one, his seat on the next, and his
feet were crossed over the third.
"Twenty-five, man, I was just tellin' this cat. And fifteen
rebounds." -
At six-foot-four, he is Harold. Simons' star junior forward,
averaging roughly 22 points a game. That is a fine average in
anyone's league, and Erich-quiet, calm, and confident-=is well
aware of it. He was sitting in the stands an hour before the
opening tipoff of the varsity game against Jackson, watching the
junior varsity teams play as Huron fans drifted into the bright
gymnasium. In tones that were a mix. of awe, friendliness, and a
desire to show that one knew the star well enough to say hi,
students greeted Erich and formed a sort of crescent around him
in the stands.
Santifer has a very good chance of playing basketball in
college, perhaps the best chance of anyone on the Huron team. He
may be named to an All-State high school team at the end of the
season-fairly rare for a junior. He knows all of this as well as
anyone. His talk is cocky, but as he speaks there is a look of won-
der on his face, as in a child who has just sunk his first lay-up, a
soft smile of quiet pride.
Though he is the team's leading scorer, he is perhaps most
valuable as a rebounder. Not a sparkplug type, he usually lopes
down the court just behind the rest of the pack, then slips his thin
frame through the tangle to get under the boards. He is one of
those basketball players with the gift of making all his moves look
like slow motion: his feints to the basket, his long jump shots
from the sideline, and his leaps to the boards. He plays with that
calmness on his face, that quiet pride.
Why does he love it so much?
"I love the game of basketball because it makes me happy,"
he said softly, lacing his long fingers behind his head and tilting
back on the bleacher behind him. "It's something I've grown up
with. Like, success; my success made me want more success.

"I think I could play pro basketball, that's the goal. I think
basketball could be my whole life. But I won't get the big head,
man. I won't get the big head because I'm too intelligent."
What's the biggest kick, the thing that makes him feel good
even when he's tired and hot and his team is trailing?
Erich gave a coach's answer, albeit with sincerity: "Seeing us
execute well as a squad, offensively and defensively."
Then he thought a moment and said, "One of the best things for
me~is just to watch Tony Patton play~defense. If a team comes in
- here with a big gun, I know I've got Tony to depend on. Just like I
feel my goin' to the boards is an art, I feel Tony's defense is an
art."
H URON HAD BROKEN the game wide open before it
had barely gotten under way, and went. down to the
locker room at half-time with a 39-17 lead. But the team
was playing a sloppy third quarter, and Jackson was
soon staging a plodding comeback. Built more like a thick-set
baseball catcher than a basketball player, Tony Patton was reac-
ting to the Jackson drive with scrambling, shifting defense.
Those who know the game only through kids showing off on a
playground, or watching Julius Erving's acrobatics on television,
miss the guts of basketball. "If the opponents do not score,"
coaches tell their teams, "you will not lose." The beauty of that
logic is lost on many fans, but not on Huron's Steve Davis and
Tony Patton.
If there is a way to make defense flashy, Davis knows it. His
style dares the man with the ball. He stares at the dribbler with an
open-mouthed half-grin, as if to say, "I can't believe you're trying
to get by me, man." He waits for the dribbler to move, then darts
at the ball, hoping for the big steal and the fast break. It works
frequently.
But Davis's style is not Tony's. Playing with his eyebrows ar-
ched as if in surprise, he is Huron's classic dogged defender. Out-
standing defense really takes no greater gift than will power, the
resolution to stay with one's man no matter how fast he runs
downcourt, how deceptive his faking, how quick his moves to the

basket, how high his. jumps. Tony has that will, in practice as well
as against opponents. With Santifer out of the game with a twisted
ankle in the second half, Huron pressed hard to stall Jackson's
comeback. This is where Patton's sort of defense is most
valuable.
As Jackson grew desperate to slip passes under the basket,
Tony dodged back and forth with his man, lunging at the ball,
faking a steal attempt, staying between his man and the passer,
always alert for the steal, understanding that if Jackson did not
score again Huron could not lose.
O F F THE COURT, the way Tony Patton feels about
basketball shows mostly 'in his eyes. He is too shy to
put the exact feeling in words.
"I'll tell you, man, I really want to go out to Calif or-
nia 'cause then I could play basketball all year round like I
wanna."
He sweats a lot in practice. Though his shooting eye is good, he
does most for,the team when the other team has the ball, and so
he works hardest in practice on the stamina he needs to play four
quarters of all-out defense.
"It hurts, but it's worth workin' for. I figure if I'm gonna play
basketball for the rest of my life, it's worth workin' for."
Why is it so special, why does it mean so much to him? Tony
rolled his dark eyes and grinned in embarrassment.
"That's a really personal question, man, I'd rather not an-
swer. It's just really personal."
It really had not been much of a contest. In the last moments
Huron staged a stall, passing the ball back and forth to each
other without even attempting a shot. The scoreboard, high over
head, read 60-51. It had not been that close.
Erich Santifer sat on the bench with his ankle wrapped in a
bandage. He had predicted he would score 25; before he turned
his ankle just before the half, he had scored 21. As the buzzer
sounded, he pointed toward the ceiling and smiled. For himself,
his coach, his team, and for the way he was feeling, he was
saying, "Number One."

Above, Erich Santifer (40) goes to the boards. Below, Coach H,
the clock as his team races through the demanding "thir
players run to the free-throw line and back, to mid-court and
throw line and back, then to the court's far end and back-all w

Photos by Steve Kagan

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