"I've been there," Johnson said. "But you have to remember why you're playing. You're playing basketball 'cause it's fun. Now go out and have fun."
Before that Jan. 9 game, Cleaves's most significant experience involving Michigan was a nightmare: On a recruiting trip to Ann Arbor in his senior year of high school, Cleaves was a passenger in a Ford Explorer, driven by a Wolverines basketball player and carrying four other Michigan players, which hit an ice patch and flipped. The accident happened at 5:10 in the morning, when the players were returning to Ann Arbor from a party in Detroit. The car was demolished; miraculously nobody was seriously injured. This time Cleaves had a better Michigan experience: He scored 25 points, had four steals and eight assists, made 10 of 11 free throws and helped lead the Spartans to an 81-67 win. One of the highlights came when Cleaves was charged with a technical foul—for excessive celebration.
"Everything Magic was saying, I had been hearing that from my teammates, but hearing it from Magic just drove it home," Cleaves says. "I was trying to do too much. You come out, you know everybody's saying, 'Look at this guy, he's supposed to be an All-America.' I was trying to take the heat off my teammates by doing everything myself. At the Michigan game I made the decision that I would rely on them. That freed me up. I made the decision to enjoy the game."
Immediately after the Penn State game last week, Cleaves and his mother had a brief reunion. He was wearing his jersey, number 12. She was wearing a gold necklace with a number 12 pendant. She disappeared into his arms. "I almost had a heart attack tonight," Frances said. "The buzzer went off, and I didn't know who had won."
Mateen laughed. He has big, straight teeth and an enormous, warm smile that brings to mind a guard who played at Michigan State 20 years ago. "We won, Mama," he said. "We won."