On Friday, as he boarded the team bus after practice at the Metrodome, Laettner was confronted by several women trying to give him their phone numbers. The night before, in the crush of Dukesteria at the Blue Devils' hotel, one overzealous fan had left a two-inch scratch below Laettner's left eye. "He's gorgeous," Kristin Hannemann, a high school senior from suburban Cottage Grove, told Curt Brown of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I wasn't the one who scratched him, but I wish I was."
Pretty is as pretty does. While the most overworked expression in basketball's lexicon has come to be he stepped up, Laettner has become notorious for having stepped down on the chest of Kentucky's Aminu Timberlake in that instantly classic East Regional championship game on March 28, which Laettner won with a miraculous last-second shot. How notorious? During their car trip to the Final Four from their home in Angola, N.Y., Christian's mother, father and two sisters heard a radio show host criticize Christian for the stomping incident. "Did you see Laettner's mother on TV?" said the announcer, referring to the tact that Bonnie Laettner was wearing a neck brace after surgery for a degenerative disk. "He must have stepped on her neck."
The clubhouse of the world champion Minnesota Twins was Duke's locker room in the Metrodome, and ironically Laettner dressed in the cubicle of Twins first base coach Wayne Terwilliger, one of the gentlest souls in sport. Does a really good player have to have some nastiness in him? Laettner was asked. "Not nastiness all of the time...just once in a while," he said. "I get nasty when I need it."
Meanwhile the young Wolverines, as is their wont, took all the excitement in stride. "We're not concentrating on shocking the world anymore," said Webber as Michigan prepared for its semi against Cincinnati. "Our strength is that we don't respect anyone."
"I don't think this team will ever be nervous playing basketball," said Rose. "There are too many other things in life to be nervous about."
Coach Steve Fisher, with his Beaujolais-colored cheeks and hay-mown, aw-shucks manner, seemed to be the perfect, laid-back mentor for his volatile rookies. "I don't have cue cards," Fisher said early last week of coaching such talent. "I have great trust in them. They get along so well as a group that their spontaneity has carried over into how they handle stressful situations on the court."
As if Michigan faced any of those situations before Monday. When Cincinnati pulled in front of the Wolverines 50-43 early in the second half of the first semifinal game, Rose admonished the pressing, trapping, indomitable Bearcats: "It doesn't matter, you're still gonna lose."
What had transpired up to that point should have given the Wolverines pause, except that they could hardly catch their breath what with the Cincinnati backcourt of Nick Van Exel and Anthony Bu-ford swarming between, around and among them in coach Bob Huggins's "amoeba" defense. Van Exel and Buford wound up combining for seven of the Bearcats' 11 steals as well as for 39 points and a whole lot of words. "It was like a street game," said Buford afterward. "It seems like talking trash adds to their calmness...like it makes them feel they're at home on the playgrounds."
The taller Wolverines' zestful hunger for rebounds slowly but surely turned the game around. Webber, Rose and center Juwan Howard ganged up for 28 boards to help give Michigan a 46-30 edge in that department. But the Fab Five needed aid and sustenance from a couple of the Forgotten Five, who used to light up Ann Arbor before the freshmen came on the scene. Michael Talley was one. Earlier this season, after losing his starting spot, an angry Talley missed a practice and was suspended for a game. On Saturday, however, he tarried just long enough for his younger mates to get their bearings, after which he was replaced by the 6'8" Voskuil, an aerospace engineering major and two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. Voskuil started 14 games in 1990-91 and another 14 this season in addition to struggling with an oral presentation entitled "Turbular vs. Laminar Boundary Layers Flowing over a Rotating Football," a project in his aerospace studies.
With Michigan clinging to a 65-63 lead with 3:29 to go—and with Fisher shouting "Keep-away," meaning the Wolverines were supposed to be in their delay game—Voskuil hit a three-pointer from the top of the circle. "That's my trademark, the spot-up jumper," he said.