The Michigan Daily, Thursday, September 10, 1987- Page 3
cagers to lofty heights
By SCOTT G. MILLER
Midway through the 1981-82
season, Michigan's record stood at
1-13 for second-year head coach Bill
Frieder. The year before Frieder had
led the team to 19 victories. A
story titled "The Crumbling 'M"'
appeared in a Detroit paper
discussing the decline of Wolverine
basketball, and Frieder had to be
doubting himself. But one man had
"I still have a letter (Athletic
Director Don) Canham sent me,"
said Frieder. "It said 'Don't worry
about it. It is a throwaway season.
Do the best you can and try to
come up with a good recruiting
year. But you are my basketball
coach as long as you want to be."'
MICHIGAN finished that
1981-82 season with an 8-19 mark,
and Frieder never looked back. Just
two years later,.Michigan won the
National Invitational Tournament,
the school's only national
basketball championship. Add back-
to-back Big Ten championships,
and Frieder has become a
tremendously successful coach.
"What we've accomplished in a
short time has surprised me because
the league is such a demanding
league," said Frieder. "I consider
guys like Lou Henson, Gene
Keady, Bobby Knight, and Jud
Heathcote real fine basketball
coaches. I have coached six years,
and Knight and I are the only guys
to win the Big Ten outright twice.
So that's a heck of an
For his team's accomplishments
Associated Press and Basketball
Weekly named Frieder National
Coach of the Year, and both wire
services honored him as Big Ten
Coach of the Year for the 1984-85
Success is not new to the
Saginaw native., Wherever he has
coached, he has won, whether at
Alpena High School as the junior
varsity coach, Flint Northern High
BY SCOTT G. MILLER
Nightmare finally ends for
M' basketball recruit
Sean Higgins hopes he authored a new and happier chapter of his
life with one quick stroke of a pen. When the Los Angeles high
school basketball phenom signed a national letter of intent - for the
second time - he sighed in relief.
This time Higgins signed under his own volition. The pressure
from his parents and from college recruiters is just a bad memory.
"I'm finally going to get it over with," said Higgins before
signing. "All that stuff (the events surrounding his recruitment) will
be behind me."
THAT STUFF composes one of the most bizarre recruiting tales
ever. Selection of the right school is difficult under normal
circumstances. Higgins faced intense pressure from his mother to stay
close to home and from his father, who lives in Detroit, to come to
He decided to play for the Wolverines - or so he thought. The day
before the early signing period in November, Higgins told his sister
and natural father his choice. But Higgins' 6-9, 250-pound stepfather
allegedly intervened with a baseball bat and ordered Higgins to sign
Add to the family struggle alleged illegal inducements by a UCLA
alumnus, the mysterious payment of the stepfather's back taxes on the
day Higgins signed with the Bruins, and a Sports Illustrated
investigative article, and the situation begins to sound like a soap
opera. In March, the NCAA voided Higgins' original letter of intent
to go to UCLA.
"The NCAA investigator told me if I wasn't telling the truth, I
should be a screenplay writer," said Higgins.
A happy ending in the final act of his ordeal should end the
pressure he has endured for months. Although re-approached by such
luminary and rule-abiding academic institutions as UNLV and
Kentucky, Higgins is more than content to sign with Michigan - his
choice all along.
DURING TROUBLED times last November, Higgins never
gave in. He could have abided by his mother's wishes, taken the
alleged illegal inducements from UCLA, and remained silent.
"I think what he has done has shown a lot of courage and character,
because he complained he was forced into it (signing with UCLA).
Instead of letting it die, he went out and proved it," said Michigan
head coach Bill Frieder. "He must have proved it without a doubt, or
they wouldn't have released him."
There are no doubts about Higgins' basketball skills. He led his
Fairfax High School team with a 27-point scoring average. Fairfax
won the Los Angeles city championship, and many believe Higgins is
the'finest prep player the city ever has produced. The 6-8 swingman
moves on the court like his favorite professional player, Magic
Higgins enjoys the comparison and the accompanying pressure.
"All the pressure on me will affect me in a positive way," said
Higgins. "I think there is going to be a lot of pressure because of high
expectations, but I think I can handle it and rise to the occasion."
The pressure to perform cannot compare to his ordeal. Higgins is
finally content. He is working out his differences with his mother and
stepfather. Thoughts of school and of playing with Gary Grant and the
other Wolverines fill his head. Higgins passed Proposition 48 and is
considering majoring in communications.
He wants to communicate a message to Wolverine faithful about
next season. "I will be playing hard. There is no doubt about that,"
said Higgins. "I don't want the fans to expect a Michael Jordan or
somebody like that. There is only one Jordan, and there's only one
(Magic) Johnson. But there is only one Sean Higgins, too."
School as the junior varsity and
varsity coach, or Michigan as an
assistant and head coach.
In seven seasons at the
Wolverine helm, Frieder's record
stands at 141-72 - a .662 winning
percentage. Only the man that hired
Frieder, Johnny Orr, has more
career victories at Michigan (209).
Frieder's coaching achievements are
no accident. He is hard working,
intelligent, and dedicated.
HARD WORKING: Frieder
can be characterized as the ultimate
hoop junkie. He just loves the
game. How much? Instead of
becoming a businessman following
the completion of his MBA degree,
Frieder took the Alpena coaching
Frieder explains, "My relaxation
is basketball. My work is
basketball. Everything I do is
basketball related. I hardly do
anything in this town without
stopping in at the office or Crisler
Arena. That's year round."
With such a passion for the
game, it is easy to see why Frieder
toils so diligently. His hard work
pays dividends on and off the court.
As a recruiter, he is second to none.
Frieder relentlessly pursues the best
talent in the nation. To land
Michigan's Mr. Basketball 1986
Terry Mills, for example, Frieder
began writing to the Romulus
native during his freshman year in
"He does the little things right,"
said one of last year's recruits. "He
makes you feel important. When he
recruits you, he gives you the
"A lot of head coaches are in the
background. Coach Frieder does a
lot of the recruiting with his
assistants. He would send little
notes. He would write them in his
own handwriting, and that means a
little more to you."
INTELLIGENT: Doing the
little things are important to
Frieder. His mind is meticulous and
employs its genius level IQ to the
maximum. Legend has it that the
Michigan coach is persona non
grata in Las Vegas. He has not been
to Vegas in seven years.
"Why not beat (the casinos) if
you are going to sit down and
play?" asked Frieder. "I work too
hard for my money to give it to
"I developed a system to beat the
game of blackjack. It has been
proven statistically that you can
But can the same ingenuity be
used in coaching?
"Gambling requires all the same
ingredients that coaching a team
does," said Frieder. "You have to be
patient, poised, mentally and
physically prepared, and
DEDICATED: Frieder loves
the University of Michigan. He
obtained both his BBA and MBA
from Michigan. He spent seven
years as Orr's assistant while
rejecting numerous head coaching
offers. Orr's surprise departure
allowed Frieder to rise to the top
position, but he would have
remained an assistant for longer if
"It is hard to leave Michigan
because it is a first-class place,"
said Frieder. "It has great facilities,
a great alumni body, and a great
"So every time I interviewed for
a job when I was an assistant, I
compared it to Michigan and then I
just turned it down. I was just too
Success is difficult to argue
with, yet the fans and media relish
the opportunity to criticize the man
who has 83 victories in his last 105
outings. Pressure to win at all costs
exists for many college coaches.
Last year 68 Division I basketball
coaching changes were made.
F R I E D E R is lucky. He
occupies one of the safest positions
in all of college athletics. As long
as Michigan basketball remains a
clean program, Frieder's job is
secure. Canham would have it no
other way, so the only pressure
Frieder feels is self-generated.
"I know in this business every
year you create new enemies," said
the 12th head coach in Wolverine
history. "You keep adding enemies
if you stay at a place long enough.
You are never going to satisfy all
the people, so you can't try.
"I know that there are 13,000
people at the games, but I know I
know more about basketball than
them, including the writers. I can't
be concerned about what they say,
what they write, and what they do. I
just have to go about doing my
Maybe recruiting too many blue-
chip players has created problems
for Frieder. With all the talent
Michigan possessed the last few
seasons, fans felt the Wolverines
never should have lost. The coach
took the heat.
"It's a shame with all (Frieder's)
accomplishments that people keep
saying that he can't coach," said
assistant coach Mike Boyd. "What
,else does he have to do to be
classified as a good coach?"
"It is a bad rap that Frieder can't
coach just like a lot of bad raps
against me," said former star
Antoine Joubert. "There are just
some things you have to live and
Another criticism is that
Frieder's clubs fail to prevail in
crucial situations - such as the
NCAA Tournament. In first-round
action three years ago, Michigan
squeaked by lowly regarded
Fairleigh Dickinson, 59-54, and
slid by even lower-regarded Akron,
70-64, two years ago. Last year,
however, the Wolverines beat the
highly regarded Navy team led by
all-world David Robinson.
"I will be the first to admit we
have been a disappointment in the
tournaments (in the past)," said
Frieder. "But those things happen:
"Take a Ray Meyer (former
Depaul head coach). Look how long
it took him to finally get a team to
the Final Four. (Former Villanova
head coach) Rollie Massimino
finally won it, but it took him
many years. There is a share of luck
in there too as well as everything
"Our first concern is winning the
Big Ten championship," said Boyd.
Daily Photo by JOHN MUNSON-
Head coach Bill Frieder has become the second winningest basketball
coach in Michigan history and is one of the most successful coaches in the'
"We take pride, not to knock the
NCAAs, in winning the Big Ten
title, and anything after that is icing
on the cake."
That frosting, though, would
establish Frieder as one of the finest
coaches in the country.
"There are certain guys that don't
get much credit, and Bill falls in
that category," said CBS basketball
analyst Billy Packer. "He beats
Knight for the conference
championship (two years ago) and
blows him off the wall.
"But nobody says 'Great job Bill
Frieder.' They say he had all the
players. But if Bobby wins the
game, they say he is a great coach
and Frieder can't coach.
"What he has got to do is win a
national crown or else the stigma
stays," Packer said.
Even Frieder's recruiting has
come under close scrutiny recently.
Michigan's top two recruits of a
year ago, high school All-
Americans Mills and Rumeal
Robinson, were ineligible last
season due to below-minimum
college board scores as required by
Proposition 48. Reports in national
newspapers regarding the
Wolverines' recruits helped fuel the
debate over nreferential treatment of
"I have to stick around long
enough to prove to the people we
did the right thing," said Frieder.
"You can't measure dedication in a
test score. Robinson: is going to te
a good student because he puts In
the time. Mills is off to a great
start, too." Mills earned a 3.0 grade
point average for the first term las
year, while Robinson earned a 2.0:
Frieder explained; "We did it all
legally. We are not going to try to
buy the fourth year. We put them
on scholarship, and they will have
three years of eligibility after this
Frieder favors Proposition 4$
because it upgrades academics and,
athletics. He feels the number of
athletes who fail to qualify wile
decrease every year. Proposition 48
caused a re-evaluation of Michiga&
recruiting policy, but nbr
"We want to get kids that cal'
come in and help us immediately:
said Frieder. "Yet if you had a kc;
like Terry Mills that is 20 minute:
away, and if you don't know
sure he is going to pass the test,
then you recruit him. You are not"
going to pass up a kid like that." s
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