Coach Dave Strack is happiest when Cazzie Russell's name comes up. Coach Strack actually is not averse to bringing Cazzie's name up himself, whereupon his enthusiasm for his star gushes forth mightily. Strack finally arrives at the belief that mere dialogue can no longer do Cazzie justice. Then, overwhelmed by his own words, he says simply: "He continuously amazes me." Last year, when people would suggest that there might be a better player around, Strack, in exasperation, would protest that they just did not "understand" Cazzie—as if he were somehow playing on a different level from all the rest. There is considerable testimony from less-biased observers to support such a contention, and this year, anyway, there is no doubt at all that the best player in college is Cazzie Lee Russell Jr. of Michigan.
"His greatest ability is to perform 150% in clutch situations," Strack says, in one sample of the harmless error into which his enthusiasm leads him. " Russell is just better when there's tenseness out there. I know it's a clich�, but notice the games when we're 25 points ahead. Cazzie will stand back there and pass, and he's more just like any other player." Then, having caught his own unintentional blasphemy, Strack corrects himself: "Well, now, not like any other player, but well, not like he is in the clutch. He continuously amazes me."
Strack says Russell is better than last year and that his vision has improved. It is difficult to grasp this, since Cazzie said a year ago that his peripheral vision enabled him to see all nine other players as he crossed the midcourt line. Maybe now he can see both benches as well. Improving on his pressure performances of last season will be just as difficult. All he did then was:
?Twice hit baskets to win games at the buzzer.
?Score eight points in an overtime, as Michigan won by five.
?Sink two free throws in the last minute of double overtime to give Michigan a one-point victory.
?Get five points in the last 33 seconds as Michigan came from behind to win by one.
?Make 11 points in the last four and a half as Michigan came from behind, then went ahead on his basket with 1:35 left, finally won by two.
Cazzie gets a new supporting cast, as three starters have graduated from the team that was second in the NCAA last year. Bill Buntin's rebounding, especially, will be missed. The new team is hardly as hefty as last year's Anvil Chorus, but it is just as tall and considerably quicker. This speed may bring out the best in Cazzie. "I love to pass to a man going in and watch him score," Cazzie says. "Besides, it boosts his morale." Eligible morale boostees include 6-foot-10 Craig Dill at center, John Thompson in the backcourt with Cazzie, and John Claw-son or Jim Myers at one forward. Oliver Darden is the arm and hammer (6 feet 7, 225) still left in the forecourt. Russell, Darden and Myers are all working out in the post as subs for Dill.
Strack will not have as much as usual on the bench this year, but he will have just as good a view of his favorite, and there seems to be no reason why he won't be continuously amazed.