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The clock is the best thing that ever happened to this team," says Michigan forward Richard Rellford.
Rellford is referring to the 45-second shot clock, which will be used for all games this season, including the NCAA tournament. Last season Michigan was a 16-2 juggernaut in the Big Ten with the on-again, off-again shot clock, and a 1-1 juggernaught in the NCAAs without it. The Wolverines barely lurched past Fairleigh Dickinson 59-55 in the opening round of the NCAAs and then lost to Villanova by the same score. "It was like going to the World Series and finding out they took away the home run," says Rellford. "We were lost without the clock."
Now is the time for the Wolverines. The entire starting five is back, and they have more experience, more poise and more team unity. Not to mention better shooting.
In the backcourt, for instance, Antoine (The Judge) Joubert and Gary (The General) Grant not only played together during the summer, but they also spent at least an hour every day working one-on-one. Joubert is sure that such work will pay off in close games. "If I get trapped, I just have to think where Gary will be," he says. Grant is a big fan of Michael Jordan—and may be the closest thing to him on the college level. Together, the Judge and the General form a devastating combination, with nearly identical Big Ten stats: As a sophomore last season Joubert averaged 13.9 points and 5.2 assists; Grant, a freshman, had 13.4 and 5.1. The General also took firm command of the Michigan defense.
Fate seems to have brought the Wolverine front line together. Coach Bill Frieder discovered Roy Tarpley in a Detroit summer league before the center's senior year at Cooley High. "When I first saw him, he was 6'6", couldn't score and couldn't rebound," says Frieder. "A month later he was 6'7", and by the end of the summer he was 6'9" and had potential." When Tarpley's uncle told him Michigan wanted to give him a scholarship, the center signed without ever making an official campus visit—to Ann Arbor or anywhere else. Now at 6'11" he's one of the best pivotmen in the country, although a banged-up knee slowed him down in the preseason.
At one forward, the Wolverines have 6'8" Butch Wade, who usually guards the opposition center, allowing Tarpley to free-lance. Wade, too, was an innovative thinker when it came to being recruited out of Boston. "I ran all the schools I was interested in through a computer," he says, "and Michigan kept coming out on top." In the other corner—which is his favorite launching pad—is Rellford, who followed his football-playing high school buddy, Anthony Carter, from Riviera Beach, Fla. to Michigan.