Long before Steve Fisher won an NCAA championship with someone else's players, before all the clamor began over his having to prove he could rustle up talent of his own, before every rivethead in the state of Michigan started believing that the man over in Ann Arbor couldn't land a salmon if he sat upstream with a trawling net—before all that, Steve Fisher had to recruit himself a wife.
What does it say about him that he really didn't even do that?
It seems that Angie Wilson, Fisher's longtime flame, slipped her beau a note of ultimatum one New Year's Day while he sat in front of the tube watching the Rose Bowl. "We've been dating for four years now," the note said, "and it's high time we either get hitched or go our separate ways." There were two boxes to check, one marked YES, the other NO. "I checked 'yes' and kept watching the game," Fisher says. "Angie went off to call her folks and start planning an August wedding."
That incident did not reveal the sort of monomaniacal intensity that drove Bill Frieder, Fisher's predecessor and former boss, to fetch the talent that Fisher eventually coached to a national title in March 1989, just three weeks after Frieder had abruptly jilted the Wolverines to take the coaching job at Arizona State. You know about Fisher from the previous paragraph. Now contrast that anecdote with this one about Frieder: It places him in a gym in Chicago in the late '70s, checking out Glenn (Doc) Rivers, then the city's top high school star and now a guard with the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers. "If Bo Derek's a 10," a rival recruiter says, "Doc Rivers is at least a nine."
"Hey, forget about Rivers," Frieder replies. "What about this Derek kid?"
That such obsessive behavior isn't a prerequisite for successful recruiting will become evident to Michigan fans on Dec. 2 when Fisher guides the Wolverines' freshmen class of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson into its season opener against Detroit. Those who make a business of assessing such things hesitate to call Michigan's class of 1995 the greatest collection of freshman talent ever assembled, only because a year ago they were using such superlatives to describe North Carolina's five newcomers. "It's funny," says Bob Gibbons, a scout whose All Star Sports ratings of high school players are widely respected as the standard. "People say every year this guy Gibbons can't make up his mind. I still do think Carolina's was the best up to that time. And then Michigan comes up and beats it, in terms of sheer talent."
Adds Clem Haskins, the coach at Minnesota: "Michigan's freshman class alone has more good athletes than any team in the Big Ten. They're not better players yet, because they're freshmen. But they're better athletes."
Before signing Webber and Howard (both dynamic 6'9" post men, and Nos. 1 and 4 nationally in Gibbons's ranking of the high school class of 1991), King (a dell 6'4" shooting guard, rated No. 10), Rose (a slashing 6'8" perimeter player, No. 12), and Jackson (6'6" and perhaps the most versatile athlete of the lot, No. 76), Fisher had muddled through a miserable 1989-90 recruiting season, getting only one prospect of any note—Sam Mitchell.
Oh, folks could understand why Billy Curley, a 6'9" rebounder from Duxbury, Mass., might choose Boston College over Michigan; more than 200 of Curley's friends and relatives showed up for the Massachusetts high school title game. Nor was it mystifying that 6'10" Clifford Rozier of Bradenton, Fla., would choose the Tar Heels instead of the Wolverines when he had a grandmother living in North Carolina. (Rozier has since transferred to Louisville.) But when Eric Montross, a 7-footer from suburban Indianapolis with family ties to Michigan, chose North Carolina, Wolverine fans weren't in a forgiving mood.
Montross's father, Scott, had gone to Michigan, as had his mother, Janice. His grandfather, John Townsend, had been a basketball All-America for the Wolverines. And while one of Scott and Janice's two offspring would wind up in Ann Arbor, Eric's kid sister, Christine—a 5'10" international relations major—isn't exactly whom the faithful had in mind.