The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, March 6, 1995 -3
Q&A: FORMER WOLVERINE CAZZIE RUSSELL
. Michigan basketball legend
discusses prestigious career
If you look up to the rafters of
CrislerArena, you willsee the number
33 hanging amongst the many Michi-
gan championship banners. Thatnum-
ber was worn by Cazzie Lee Russell,
perhaps the greatest player in Michi-
gan basketballhistory. From 1963-66,
Russell dazzled the Wolverine fans,
attracting crowds so large the Univer-
sity built Crisler Arena to hold the
crowds Yost Fieldhouse could no
Russell led Michigan to three con-
secutive Big Ten titles, to the NCAA
finals in his junior year and to the
semifinals in his sophomore year. In
his senioryear, he averaged30.8points
per game and was named National
Player of the Year. After his great
senior season, Cazzie was drafted
first in the 1966 NBA draft by the New
The 6-foot-5 guard played in the
NBA for 12 seasons, playing for the
Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Los
Angeles Lakers and finally the Chi-
cago Bulls before retiring in 1978.
Russell was named to the NBA All-
Star team once and was a key player
on the '69-'70 NBA Champion New
After his professional playing
career, Russell spent time as an
NBA assistant coach with the At-
lanta Hawks, and was a head coach
in the CBA fora total of eight years.
Daily Sports Writer Brett
Krasnove recently spoke to Russell,
who now lives in Columbus.
Daily: What are you presently do-
Russell: I'm teaching and coach-
ing, high school (basketball), both
varsity and junior varsity.
D: What made you change to high
school after all the coaching in the
NBA and CBA?
R: My contract ended with Co-
lumbus (of theCBA) and they wanted
to move the team. I wanted to stay in
Columbus, so I decided to pursue
D: Are you happy there?
R: It's a good situation for me at
D: What's the difference in coach-
ing high school players after coach-
ing NBA and CBA players?
R: Oh, there's a big difference.
D: What was your first reaction
when you heard your number was
going to be retired?
R: I really didn't know how to
react. I know that it's something that
happens, but when it comes to you,
it's almost like someone has to pinch
you because they don't have to do
There are a lot of great players.
There are a lot of great basketball play-
ers. There are a lot of great athletes and
to pick me out ... it is a very, very
touching honor and ahumblinghonor.
I don't really have the words to
describe it. I don't know what I could
say'but thank God and thank the Uni-
versity for bestowing this honor upon
As this was happening I (was
pleased with my former teammates)
coming back to share in that honor,
because Cazzie Russell sure didn't do
it by himself.
You don't win three consecutive
Big Ten championships by yourself.
You do it with the cooperation of the
players who are willing to make that
commitment and the guys made that
I surely hope they will feel as loved
as I feel loved in terms of having the
number retired. I hope they feel as
much a part of that as I do.
D: So it's more like "the team"
number was retired?
R: I would have to say so. I mean,
if someone were to ask me, I would
surely say that. I look back at the late
Bill Buntin and him saying goodbye
and asking me, as I was thinking of
becoming abasketball coach, ifIcould
D: What would you say is the high-
light of your NBA career?
R: I would say that the highlight
would be when I was part of the (New
school. I was found in a P.E. class.
D: Just because of your height?
R: I would imagine. I was at that
time about 6-foot-21/2 and I probably
Of course, we missed him the game
before when Wilt (Chamberlain of
the Knicks' opponent L.A. Lakers)
got 45, but that had to be a great honor
to play on that team. That was a very
gutsy performance to come out and to
endeavor to play.
D: Is there any player around now
that reminds you of yourself?
R: Well, I don't know if I would say
that. I know a lot of people have men-
tioned to me certain players play a
certain way and they say certain play-
ers shoot or run like you. You kind of
laugh, but you don't really sit around
and say "oh, that guy plays like me."
D: How do you feel about the
amount of Michigan players in the
NBA right now? Do you think you
started something when you were
drafted No. 1?
R: Well, I think these kids are
there because they're good. I don't
know if it's because Cazzie Russell
was drafted No. 1, but I do know
that a lot of them are there because
they can flat play and that's a credit
D: Do you have any thoughts on
Michigan? Do you come back to visit
R: Well I try to come back as
much as I can. I'm very, very fortu-
nate and I feel very honored to have
gone to the University of Michigan
and I surely hope that I will always be
a credit to the University. There were
some tough times and there have been
some good times.
It's a class university and I hope
they will always respect the fact that
I am proud to have attended there.
The fact that they retired my number.
The fact that I have my degree. There
are a lot of wonderful things. There
are a lot of people who were happy
that I stuck it out.
So maybe, one day, who knows,
down the line maybe I could get the
chance to coach Michigan basketball.
Fisher has been main
man for 'M' this year
y choice for this year's Michigan basketball Most Valuable
Player: Steve Fisher.
The coach has faced possibly his toughest season at
Michigan's helm this year. The '90-'91 season -- the last time Michigan
missed the NCAA tournament - had its difficulties, but little was expected
from that team.
This year, though, many looked for Michigan to grow into a position of
dominance as the year progressed. But the Wolverines will do well to even
grab a spot in the 64-team asylum of March Madness. The failures of this
team must give Fisher stomach pains. But he has remained calm while
clocking his finest coaching performance in Ann Arbor.
Yet he receives little credit.
Take a look at Michigan's defense. When the team couldn't throwthe ball
in the ocean early in the season, Fisher decided to take care of his own end
first. The result: Michigan is holding its opponents to the lowest shooting
percentage in the Big Ten.
Little in the defensive scheme is new this season. The team just
executes it better than in past years.
The Wolverines unleash a fierce double-team whenever the ball goes
inside. What makes this work is the speed with which Michigan surrounds
the ballhandler. Fisher has made this a priority with his club and it has
earned the team a measure of respect in the conference after limping into
the Big Ten schedule.
Michigan lost to Washington, Pennsylvania and a weak St. John's team
this season, but Fisher has held the squad together. Things were tough for the
Wolverines in the early-going as players searched for their identities on a
team filled with top-caliber athletes. It has taken time, but Fisher has defined
those roles, plugging players into an accepted system.
He has tinkered little with the starting lineup. While some observers may
call this a weakness of Fisher's, a lesser coach would have panicked when
things went against him, pulling players from the opening five faster than
Duke retires aplayer'sjersey.
Fisher has provided stability for his team.
The coach must have known well before the season began that his
nationally-ranked No. I recruiting class would be quite unlike Michigan's
1991 ingenuds. The freshmen have needed much more time to acclimate
this time around. Fisher recognized that, giving increased playing time to
each player as he earned it.
First Maurice Taylor, then Jerod Ward, then Maceo Baston, then Willie
Mitchell, then Travis Conlan. But Fisher also realized when he pushed things
a little too hard.
Ward has had a tremendously troubled time adapting to the college game.
As a result, Fisher pulled back on the reins. The coach also brought along
Baston at the perfect rate of speed, allowing the forward a chance to shine but
also room to breath.
Fisher has had to deal with several unexpected developments as well.
Senior Jimmy King has been a distinguished disappointment this year. But
fellow senior Ray Jackson stepped up his game more than a notch to
Junior Dugan Fife has often reverted to the form that netted him zero
baskets in his freshman campaign. When Fife looks at the hoop he usually
performs well, but too many times this year, he has been gun-shy from
beyond the arc.
And the coach lost a big spark off the bench when Olivier Saint-Jean
transferred to San Jose State. The Frenchman was never mistaken for
basketball's equivalent of Jean-Claude Killy, but he would have given this
See FORREST, Page 5
York Knicks) World Championship
team of '69-'70. Ijust came back from
the 25th anniversary (celebration).
The '69-'70 team won 18 straight
that year, then won the champion-
ship. I think that's great. And then
to be drafted No. 1. I look back over
those two highlights and I've got to
feel really blessed.
Themore theyears passed, the more
I realized how blessed I was to be on
that team and also to be drafted No. I
when they had 12 or 14 rounds, where
you now only have two.
As amatterof fact, I'vegottopinch
myself. I didn't know how to play
basketball until my first year in high
ended up 6-foot-3 1/2 by the end of my
sophomore year. (I was) 14 years old.
D: About the Knicks champion-
ship team. Willis Reed (center on '69-
'70 team)-would you say there's any
player around like him today or could
there be anybody that disciplined a
player or as gutsy?
R: Well, that's a tough question
because I don't know. Personally, I
don't know if anybody could answer
that. I happen to know Willis Reed
displayed some kind of[courage to come
out and drag that hip (in the seventh
game of the 1970NBA Finals). He hit
those first two shots, I mean that was
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