Several days after he had been named Coach of the Year, Michigan's Johnny Orr received a call from an old grad, Gerald Ford. Orr was overwhelmed, but as the conversation continued, he became suspicious, and soon his large pink face turned crimson. This was not the President on the line, it was Bobby Knight, whose Hoosiers had recently beaten the Wolverines in the NCAA finals.
This season Orr may get a call from the real President, even if he isn't from Michigan. The Wolverines appear to be on their way to the national championship. Michigan's only loss is Wayman Britt, the 6'2" magic forward, leaving Orr with Guards Rickey Green and Steve Grote, and Forwards Johnny Robinson and Olympian Phil Hubbard. All that's missing is the one big center that would permit Orr to move the 6'8" Hubbard, with his face-to-the-basket quickness and 15-foot kangaroo jumper, into the corner. Playing against taller centers in 29 of Michigan's 32 games last year, Hubbard still managed 15.1 points and 11 rebounds as a freshman. At forward he would be sensational.
Orr did persuade three of the nation's best big men to narrow their choices down to Michigan and somewhere else, but while Orr was out on the banquet circuit and playing "58 different golf courses" all spring and summer, the three all chose "somewhere else": 6'11" Stuart House, from Detroit, went to Washington State; 6'11" Ricky Brown went to Mississippi State; and 6'10" juco transfer Mike Davis went to Maryland. So much for tall centers.
Orr is still determined to play Hubbard at forward, and the center job could fall to Ann Arbor's own Doctor Dunk, 6'8" Joel (pronounced Joe-el) Thompson, a man who can shoot as long as the trajectory is straight down, or 6'9" Tom Bergen. Another comer is 6'6" sophomore Alan Hardy, a forward who plays superb defense and handles the ball better than Robinson. This combination of skills could be enough to cost Robinson his starting job.
Grote and Green are the most complementary pair of guards in the country. Grote has started 78 of 86 games since his freshman year and is frequently called the most punishing runner at Michigan, which makes Bo Schembechler wonder why he is wearing short pants and sneakers. Because Grote often runs over people, the two backup guards, Dave Baxter and Tom Staton, see plenty of action. Green is simply a scoring and ball-handling machine who can accelerate to the basket in the blink of a defender's eye. In his first year after transferring from Vincennes Junior College, he averaged 19.9 points on .491 shooting, and was about to walk into the sunset in search of an NBA contract. But he finally decided to scratch his name off the hardship list for the good of the OF Maize and Blue. For that, he should at least get a phone call from the ol' President.
2 NORTH CAROLINA
After the final Olympic basketball game was played last July, Walter Davis of North Carolina asked teammate Scott May of Indiana how winning a gold medal compared to winning the NCAA title. "It's two different feelings," May said, "and both are great."
Davis was interested because he figures the Tar Heels have a solid chance at the national title themselves this season. North Carolina has four starters returning from last year's 25-4 team and half a dozen of the country's best freshmen. The only missing regular is Center Mitch Kupchak, who along with Davis, Tommy LaGarde, Phil Ford, Head Coach Dean Smith and Assistant Coach Bill Guthridge gave a decided Tar Heel flavor to the U.S. Olympic effort. The question some people are asking, with only the slightest exaggeration, is can the best team in the world become the best in the country?
Possibly. The Tar Heels seemed to have a chance last year until they dried up in the postseason, losing to Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and Alabama in the Mideast Regional. "We were as good as any team in the country," Smith says, "but we didn't use our opportunity to prove it."