When Bill Frieder plays blackjack, he counts cards—counts them so well, in fact, that he has been asked to leave some of the tables in Las Vegas. And when he coaches his Michigan Wolverines, he's an insomniac who pores over film so obsessively that little is left to chance. (And just so it's clear what kind of film we're talking about here, let it be known that the last movie Frieder went to was The Godfather, in 1972.)
For the past four seasons, detail-man Frieder entrusted control of his team to All-America guard Gary Grant. But now Grant is gone to the NBA, and even though Frieder has his eight other top players back from last season—including Glen Rice, his leading scorer and rebounder—he's moaning about Grant's departure.
He shouldn't. There's little question that Rumeal Robinson, a 6'2" junior who spent much of the summer holding his own in the Celtics' rookie camp, can lead Michigan. But Frieder needs to determine who will be paired with Robinson in the backcourt. Being 6'8" and from L.A., sophomore Sean Higgins thinks he can step in and, like Magic, do the job. But Frieder isn't yet sold on Higgins, whose first semester grades prevented him from playing most of last season and who will have to tone down his showy one-on-one moves. Says Frieder, "When he tries those things, he's now going to be told, 'No, Sean.' In the Big Ten, people are going to make you give the ball up."
The front line features junior Terry Mills, the Wolverines' 6'10" power forward, whose fluctuating weight (from 230 to as much as 245 last season) would have Frieder losing sleep if he ever got any to lose. Says the fretful Frieder, "Right now Terry Mills still has to prove he's aggressive enough to be a Big Ten player."
Rice speaks to a potentially more ominous problem: "We've got players who might want to step out and do too many things at once," he says. "With all our talent, there's a chance of that happening." Robinson vows that it won't. "I have to bring order to the team," he says. "Everyone expects me to throw in 30 a game, because they know I can. But you win by having a happy team."
And a determined one. Robinson was stung by not getting even an invitation to the Olympic trials; Iowa's B.J. Armstrong was one of Olympic coach John Thompson's last cuts, and Robinson is eager to face him "so we can settle all this. I'm taking no prisoners this year. We're all a little older, a little hungrier. This is the year we should win it."
But any raised expectations just bring more pressure to bear on Frieder. He's a favorite whipping boy of the clean-headed telepundits for having won more games over the past four seasons than a certain coach at Indiana, but having gone only 5-4 in the NCAA tournaments during that time. "Every day is a battle," says Frieder. "Sometimes I feel like I'm 65 years old. I've seen us ranked from first in the country to fifth in the Big Ten, and the scary thing is, either one may be right."