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November 11, 1999 - Image 36

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-11-11

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12B - The Michigan Daily - Tipof '99- Thursday, November 11, 1999

Thursday, November 11, 1999 - Tipo,

Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid and half of
Michigan's points are gone. Left empty-handed,
Brian Ellerbe went recruiting for a backcourt. He
brought Jamal Crawford and Kevin Gaines into
the Michigan family. The two guards are now ...

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After growing up under the watchful eyes of
Maurice, Tractor and Maceo, Josh and Pete
have discovered they are the biggest men on
the playground, and with the arrival of five
promising freshmen, they are Brian Ellerbe's ...
BY JACOB WHEELER

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B~ MARK FiiANcEscurn

o years ago, Brian Ellerbe
looked at the makeup of the Big
Ten and then at a gaping hole in
his future roster.
Guards like Mateen Cleaves, Scoonie
Penn and A.J. Guyton dominated the
Big Ten. Meanwhile; the Michigan
coach saw his two prized guards -
Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid -
walking out Crisler Arena's door at the
end of the year.
He needed guards, and fast.
Otherwise he would be tormented by
nightmares of Penn and Cleaves.
In his first "real" recruiting journey
since taking over as coach, the Michigan
coach brought three top-100 guards to
Ann Arbor.
He rolled some dice and found Kevin
Gaines on the Las Vegas strip.
From the plains of Indiana, Ellerbe
wooed Gavin Groninger, the kid who
slipped through the hands of Bobby
Knight and Gene Keady.
Then he lured Jamal Crawford from
the land of Starbucks - Seattle.
Netting the 6-6 Crawford and the 6-4
Gaines gives him a one-two backcourt
punch with enough talent and height to
fight with the upper echelon of the con-
ference.
Landing those recruits was lucky for
Ellerbe, because all those great Big Ten
guards decided to come back this sea-
son.
Crawford and Gaines give the
Wolverines flexibility in their lineup.
Both can play the one- or two-guard
positions and both have a height advan-
tage over some Big Ten guards like
Penn, who stands at only 5-foot-10.
"Being taller, it helps us a little more
defensively," Gaines said. "Posting isn't
my job anymore, but if I'm on a smaller
guy I can do it."
Along with Michigan's new up-tempo
style of basketball, where 'run' is the
word of the day, the height of the guards
can get them rebounds. And quick
rebounds lead to more fast breaks.
Rebounding is "a big thing on
defense so that we can get the ball out
quicker and break out," Gaines said.
The biggest worry for Ellerbe is
which guard is going to play the point.
Both are combo guards, quick and
accurate passers, making for a difficult
decision. Ellerbe will probably have
them share the position for now, as they
have in practice so far.
"Jamal and I can both shoot and play
the point so we're both interchange-
able," Gaines said. "To me it doesn't
matter what position I play. We've jelled
well together so far and I think we're
going to make a big impact."
But while fans may find the two very
much alike at first, each has his own
unique features.
Crawford, the taller of the duo, likes
to show some flashiness in his play. It's
not too uncommon for him to try a trick

or two.
"One time he came down with LaVell
and passed behind the back on an alley-
oop," Gaines said. "He's got some
tricks."
The wild, exciting playmaking ability
is what Crawford wants the fans to see.
"I wouldn't come here if I wasn't
going to (try some tricks)," Crawford
said. "As far as I go, I think I am going
to bring something new to the table at
Michigan. I think the fans will be
excited."
Crawford has help from a special
resource - NBA all-star guard Gary
Payton. The two worked out together in
Washington this past summer.
"He's helped me a lot," Crawford said.
"You can't say, 'Jamal plays like him,'
because it's a combination of others. I try
to take certain things from different play-
ers and add them to my game."
The soft-spoken type, Crawford had
to keep himself stable during his rocky,
early high school years, when his moth-
er sent him to Los Angeles.
"My mom sent me in eighth grade to
live with my dad," he said. "She wanted
me to have a father figure."
But the rougher streets of Los
Angeles took their toll, outweighing the
benefits of living with his father. Gangs
and violence bled through the city. One
day, Crawford watched in horror as a
local gang shot down his best friend. He
felt threatened and depressed. Los
Angeles wasn't going to work out, and
Crawford moved back to Seattle.
With his grades falling and college in
doubt, Crawford petitioned for a fifth
year of high school. He won his petition,

and used the time to get ready.
"It was rough," I didn't really wanted
to go down there anyways. Things hap-
pened that I wish didn't happen. But
overall, I think I am a better person
now," Crawford said. "Getting the fifth
year was the credit to my success. I real-
ly needed to prepare for college."
Gaines had a much smoother ride to
Michigan. His early announcement to
come to Michigan brought instant
comparisons to former Fab Five mem-
ber - Jalen Rose, not only for his
style of play, but for his extreme com-
petitiveness.
"I really don't like to lose at all,"
Gaines said. "It's basically Jalen Rose, but
more like Magic Johnson. That's the atti-
tude we have to take into the season."
The guard is even competitive when it
comes to video games. Several team-
mattes have already commented on his
uncanny skill at video games like NFL
2000 for the Playstation and Dreamcast.
Gaines didn't spend his whole offsea-
son playing games - rather, he refined
his game at Michael Jordan's basketball
camp.
"It's learning the little things that
(Jordan) does that's important," he said.
Those little things can turn these two
freshmen into college-caliber players
quickly, something they need to do to
compete with the great guards in the
conference.
"We'll be ready for (them) when the
games come around," Gaines said. "It's
really comfortable that we come in and
we don't really have to fight for our
position. It's not a done deal yet,
though."

S oft-spoken veterans Josh
Asselin and Peter Vignier sat
alone at a table during the Big
Ten's preseason press conference in
Chicago two weekends ago. They
enjoyed breathing room and' a few
scattered questions from reporters,
while the media swarmed instead
around teams favored to win the con-
ference and make noise in the NCAA
Tournament.
A few feet away, Ohio State's light-
ning-quick guard, Scoonie Penn, gig-
gled with March Madness dreams
while Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
barely kept from chewing off his
already-thin fingernails. Izzo has
practically knawed them down to the
bone since his marquee player,
Mateen Cleaves, went down with a
stress fracture in his right foot.
But the two Michigan veterans epit-
omized the collected and calm
demeanor that coach Brian Ellerbe
stresses anywhere hungry reporters
feast on hype about top-ranked teams
or sensational freshmen.
Michigan is not an outstanding bas-
ketball team right now, and Ellerbe's

squad cringes at the talent and battle
experience of a conference that sent
two teams to the Final Four last sea-
son. Yet the camera flashes nearly
blind the eyes around Crisler Arena
because of Michigan's heralded fresh-
man class, which will inevitably bear
the brunt of lifting the program back
to a marquee level in the near future.
And Michigan basketball fans still get
that tingly feeling inside whenever
they think about a superb freshman
class of five.
But that's exactly why Asselin and
Vignier represented the Wolverines at
Big Ten media day, and not any of the
five freshmen. The veterans are
Ellerbe's first and second mates on a
ship that will inevitably pass through
stormy waters before it anchors in a
safe cove.
Asselin, a junior, and Vignier, a
senior, will start in the frontcourt this
winter - at least until junior Brandon
Smith returns from injury, likely in
January - and stabilize the nerves of
a youth-dominated team. Their pres-
ence should decompress the cabin,
and their experience will prove cru-

cial when the rigorous conference
season begins.
"We've been teaching them since
day one," said Vignier, who is playing
his fourth season in a Michigan uni-
form, but began picking up consider-
able minutes just last year. "It hap-
pened to every one of us. You hear
about the Big Ten, but it doesn't seem
real until you get into the actual game
and you're chasing people around
through screens."
They are the leaders and ambas-
sadors who will introduce the fresh-
men to Big Ten basketball and its
harsh realities, but they are not domi-
neering loudmouths who control
lockerroom conversation and ignite
rallies with pre-game speeches.
They are quiet leaders.
U..
At 6-foot-11, Vignier owns the
stature- of a basketball player, yet his
soft-spoken answers, neatly-carved
goatee and deep brown eyes give him
the aura of an intellectual.
The native of Teaneck, N.J., is well
respected as an athletic scholar.
Vignier was accepted at several Ivy
League schools, yet chose to study in
the foreign language-rigorous
Residential College in LSA - not a
common path for many major-sport
athletes at Michigan. Though Vignier,
an English major, could probably
recite a Shakespearean sonnet or trans-
late Sartre's philosophy (he studied
French in the RC), he refuses to be
characterized as the team professor.
"Leon (Jones) asked me to proof
one of his papers," said Vignier, imme-
diately hiding his face out of embar-
rassment.
"A guy like Brandon is more verbal,
more emotional than me."
U..
With the notable absence of enor-
mous, bone-bruising forwards and
centers, at Michigan as well as in the
Big Ten, Josh Asselin has become a
key player in the conference. His 6-11
frame also belongs to that of a big
man, but his two feet could be his
weapons.
When the smaller Michigan guards
run and gun the ball for 40 minutes
every game, Asselin will have to keep
up with them. His athletic physique
should get him down the court in time
and, if the Ellerbe-induced fast break
slows down, Asselin will set up in the
low post again.
That double-faceted offensive abil-
ity will be very important in the con-
ference this year, since the likes of
centers Evan Eschmeyer and Calvin
Booth have departed, and guards now
dominate the conference.
But Asselin won't run the court like a
screaming child, barking out orders at
everyone around him, partly because

Aw

Meet the new backcourt

Jamal
Crawford
Freshman, Guard
6-6, 190 pounds
Renton, Wash.

Kevin
Gaines
Freshman, Guard
6-4, 180 pounds
Las Vegas, Nev.

Say what: Played only two years
of high school basketball at Rainier
Beach High School.. Parade
Magazine Second-team High
School all-American. Listed by
Recruiting USA as the tenth-best
player and the second-best guard
in the country a year ago.
Averaged 22.3 points, 7.8
rebounds and 7 assists per game as
a senior, leading his team to the 3A
Semifinals, a 21-9 record and a No.
22 national ranking. Averaged 23
points, 7 rebounds and 11 assists
per game as a junior. Named
Washington's Player of the Year in
1998 and 1999 by the Seattle Post.

Say what: The first to commit
to the Wolverines last August.
Ranked the No. 31 prep athlete
.by All-Star sports. Nicknames are
Go-go Gaines and K-Slice.
Named seventh-best high school
senior last year by Dick Vitale.
ESPN's No. 22 prospect and No. 4
point guard, nationally. Nevada
player of the year in '99.
Averaged 27 points, 10
rebounds and 4 assists per game as
a senior at Clark High School.
Personal Quote:
"I'm a hard worker and I just want to
win."

he'll-trail the fast break - as a big man
- and he won't have the ball in his
hands, but also because of his democra-
tic view of team leadership.
"The leadership role doesn't rely
on one person," the Caro native said.
"Everybody brings their own leader-
ship experience - whether it's one
of the younger kids telling another,
'C'mon, let's stick to it' or an older
player showing others how to do the
drills right."
Asselin is also a quiet player,
whose inspiration comes from with-
in, instead of a brash reactor to
what's happening around him. A per-
fect example is the tattoo on his right
shoulder and the symbolism the
mark holds for him.
The tattoo is a biohazard symbol
and a basketball with a 'Dear Mama
you are appreciated' inscription sur-
rounding it - a quote from the late
rapper Tupac Shakur. Written under
the tattoo is '1948-1996,' the years
spanning the life of Asselin's mother
Lee Ann, who passed away three
years ago on Dec. 24th- which is

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