Improved defense (Grant at the whip), newfound maturity, team chemistry—all the clichés fit—make Michigan, a team with just one senior of import, Leslie (Rock) Rockymore, a dangerous threat in the NCAAs. "It's about unity," says Rellford, "and being in the same 'hood [translation: neighborhood]. Good times happen when it's a family thing."
The departure of 6'11" Tim McCormick, the MVP in last year's NIT, and guard Eric Turner, both of whom left school with a year of eligibility remaining, might have damaged a lesser squad. But the truth is, the Wolverines run much better without the sore-kneed McCormick, and Turner was a nonworker who had ego problems sharing the backcourt with the much-ballyhooed Joubert. "I'd be coming on the break and he'd go away from me," the Judge says of Turner. "I've never treated Gary [Grant] the way Eric treated me. We needed teamship. Gary was just the player to jell us. He listens. He's a great kid."
Last season Tarpley—elusive and mobile, the proud possessor of a certain McAdoovian presence in the pivot—came out of everywhere to be the team's most valuable player. Having grown up in New York, moved to Mobile, Ala. and finished high school in Detroit, "Tarp really dropped out of the sky," says Frieder.
"I came here as a ghost," says Tarpley. This time around, the 6'11 "junior is the Big Ten's No. 2 scorer (19.2 points per game) and No. 1 rebounder (9.8 per game) and is certain to be named the conference's MVP
Nevertheless, it is the extreme contrast in Michigan's backcourt that is the most fascinating aspect of the team. The backups/outside shooters are Rockymore and Garde King Thompson, who would make a fine starting pair on many a campus. But, oh, that first string! Kansas's Danny Manning and Georgia's Cedric Henderson notwithstanding, Grant has been the most influential freshman of the season. Equipped with his ever-present boxer's mouthpiece along with marvelous athletic gifts and admirable selflessness. Grant may already be the best two-way guard in college. Following his spectacular half against Kansas, he took only one more shot because, he says, "I wanted to spread the wealth." Says Tarpley, "He has so much heart. We see G.G. out on top pressing like crazy, and we naturally dig in on defense."
So cobralike are Grant's instincts for the flickaway steal, for the pass through traffic, for all the loose-ball garbage, to be fair the General should be required to wear bells on his toes to enable the opposition to keep track of his whereabouts.
Conversely, Joubert, with his elegant Creole looks and smooth, sassy style suggesting none other than a stripped-down Prince on roller skates, would look proper only in tassels. Joubert traces his heritage to French-Cajun settlers around tiny Palmetto, La. But he grew up a prep school scoring legend in Motown—HERE COME DE JUDGE reads a sign on his Mustang—before joining the varsity at Ann Arbor. " 'Toine didn't get a shot off his first week of practice," says Tarpley. The Wolverines wanted to show Joubert his place. But the Judge proved that he was industrious and a team man besides. Though he is foot-slow, wide-bottomed and can't jump a lick, Joubert is "the best in transition I've coached," says Frieder. And he has become sensitive enough toward enemy catcalls—"Hey, Prince, sing for your Grammys"—to have had his curly mane radically sheared.
Though the Judge lacks motivation against the weak sisters, copping a plea with five-for-18 shooting in Michigan's two victories last week, he has been steady in the clutch. Joubert and Grant have combined for nearly 28 points per game and a total of 265 assists. "I can tear up guys with penetration," Joubert claims. "Dunk? I never saw Oscar Robertson dunk."
The explosive, colorful nature of this Michigan team is belied by the man who put it together. Frieder, a brilliant numbers man and card-counter who has been barred from several Las Vegas casinos, exudes all the charisma of your local mortician. A recruitaholic who eats on the run, the 43-year-old Freeds has lived for Michigan basketball ever since he was a student at Ann Arbor (class of '64) sniffing around the locker room, carrying a boxful of statistics and listening to four radios simultaneously in order to hear all the Big Ten games.
In 1973, Frieder, then coach at Flint (Mich.) Northern High, hounded his Michigan predecessor, Johnny Orr, until Orr gave him a job. As Orr's assistant, Frieder became petrified when he read of a prospect being the equal of Bo Derek because he didn't know where this Derek had played his high school ball. Now Frieder thrives on the toughest assignment of all—melding a bunch of 10s into playing like a 1.