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It's instructive to note that after Michigan won the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu last week, Wolverine point guard Jalen Rose was stuck for an answer when asked what he had enjoyed most about the tropical paradise. "I didn't see much," Rose said. "When we weren't playing, I was in my room listening to rap and thinking about playing. About the only thing I went out for was to go down to Jack-in-the-Box."
That single-mindedness helped Michigan complete a task that even the NCAA tournament doesn't require—beating three Top 20 teams in three days. The Wolverines, who were ranked sixth when they arrived in Hawaii, knocked off Nebraska (No. 20), North Carolina (5) and Kansas (2) to win the eight-team tournament. Although Michigan had lost only once this year, at Duke, the Wolverines seemed to lack the focus they had maintained while reaching the NCAA finals last season. They may have regained their concentration in Hawaii. After Rose's follow-up at the buzzer beat the Tar Heels 79-78 in the semifinals, North Carolina coach Dean Smith said, "That Michigan was much better than the Michigan I've been watching on tape."
"In a way, we have to go back to last year to be successful," said Wolverine forward Chris Webber, who was named tournament MVP. "Earlier this season we were thinking, We're older now, we're sophomores, so let's be really serious and businesslike on the court. I think now we're back to being more ourselves, not holding our emotions back."
The Michigan players weren't the only ones who showed their colors at the Rainbow. Tar Heel junior center Eric Montross and Jackson State's Lindsey Hunter Jr., a senior guard with seemingly boundless range who scored 48 points against Kansas and 39 against Southwestern Louisiana, raised the eyebrows of the NBA scouts in attendance. But it was the Wolverines who left Hawaii with the most reason to anticipate a Hau'oli Makahiki Hou—Happy New Year.
Less than a year ago the plug was about to be pulled on Division II Bridgeport. Now, not only are the Purple Knights up and around, but they're the picture of health, at least on the court. Their 115-109 victory over top-ranked Virginia Union, the defending Division II champion, was almost as remarkable as the fact that the Knights are playing basketball at all.
Shortly before Bridgeport lost the national-championship game last March, the university was on the verge of closing because of financial difficulties. After the season, players made plans to transfer, and Knight coach Bruce Webster took a job as a limousine driver.
But in July the Professors World Peace Academy, an organization that receives most of its funding from Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, took over the school for $50.5 million. The affiliation has angered some local residents because the church has a reputation for brainwashing its followers and because Moon has proclaimed himself the second messiah. "We've heard all the jokes about being Moon U," says junior captain Winston Jones. "But I don't see [the church's] presence at all at the university."
Against Virginia Union, Jones scored 20 points, David Sweeting had 26, and sophomore Lamont Jones, who had been heavily recruited by the Panthers when Bridgeport was close to folding, poured in 30. A few more victories for the Knights, who improved their record to 7-5, might even stop the Moonie jokes. "One fellow coach sent me a picture of one of our players with a big moon cut out and placed over his backside," says Webster. "And, of course, everyone asks me when I'm going to shave my head and sell flowers. But, hey, it sure beats driving a limo."