A matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country will turn a coach's hair gray, and a sloppy early-season game between them, like last Saturday's Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., will turn a gray-haired coach's head grayer still. But of all the coifs in that not-so-titanic clash of titans, in which dapple-haired Bill Frieder's Michigan Wolverines, No. 2 according to SI, muddled to a 49-44 win over silver-haired Bobby Cremins's Georgia Tech Ramblin' Wreck, SI's No. 1, the most compelling head of hair belonged to Michigan guard Antoine (The Judge) Joubert. It has been suggested that the Judge can Really Play. It has also been suggested that he is a gherri-curled, rat-tailed imposter. "The day we signed Antoine," says Frieder, "I told my staff that there'd be a lot of days we'd live by Joubert, and a lot of days we'd die by him."
On Saturday, in a big game in which the points came fitfully, the Judge's 21-point performance amounted to a verdict of sorts. Yes, I can play. His coach may not think very highly of the little outcropping on the back of Joubert's head, but..."Antoine's always worn it that way," Frieder shrugs. "Hey, he's Creole, and that's the way they wear their hair."
Joubert is also from Detroit, and here's the way they play their ball:
First, for motivational purposes, take a little uptown woofing from the guy who's guarding you. In this case it was Tech's Harlem-bred defensive ace, Bruce Dalrymple. "That's two!" Dalrymple reminded Joubert late in the first half, after the Judge had traveled under pressure from Dalrymple and his backcourt mate, Mark Price, to give up the ball yet one more time.
Next, deal back a little Motown woofing of your own. "You sit down," said Hizzoner, this after Dalrymple picked up his fourth foul with the second half barely two minutes old.
Then Joubert took advantage of Dalrymple's absence by schooling Craig Neal, Tech's backup guard, three times on short jump shots to help the Wolverines slingshot their way from six points back into a tie.
Finally, he got in the last word with a couple of free throws in the final minute, won the game MVP award and still exchanged pleasantries with Dalrymple afterward. "All that [verbal] stuffs part of the game," said the Judge.
So, too, are first halves like the one Michigan suffered through. Helped by the upper-class play of 6'8" freshman forward Tom Hammonds, who would finish with 14 points and eight rebounds, the Yellow Jackets appeared to be anticipating the Wolverines' every move. Price and Dalrymple repeatedly jumped out on Joubert and Gary (The General) Grant and fleeced them of the ball. John Salley, Tech's 7-foot center, took swipes at the soft offerings of Roy Tarpley, the Wolverines' All-America pivotman, who went 1 for 8 in the half. If a shot wasn't blocked outright, some masochistic Techster would be there to draw a charge on any reckless 'Rine who dared shoot on the move. First it was Hammonds who drew an offensive foul, then the 166-pound Neal, then forward Duane Ferrell, whose own tail Cremins tolerates, possibly because Ferrell insists it's an "antenna," necessary for clear communication with the coach.
Michigan went into the locker room trailing 25-17, but even though the Wolverines had shot 18%, they were still very much in the game. They just had to make a slight strategic adjustment. Charged with implementing that change was the Judge, who, according to legend, earned his handle at Detroit's Southwestern High for his ability to bring order to the court. "In the first half, we'd call a play and they'd be right there," Joubert said. "So we changed it up. We started reading screens, going the opposite way from what the play had called for."
Tech's second-half collapse bore out one truth about complementary guards: Some pairs are in more delicate sync than others. Price shot miserably, coming up short on jumper after jumper, including two air balls. After Dalrymple fouled out with 2:34 remaining, Price was reduced to forcing poor shots, finishing 2 for 13.
Price had outplayed such fine guards as Syracuse's Pearl Washington, Duke's Johnny Dawkins and Illinois's Bruce Douglas last season, and Grant, aware of that, savored the challenge. "I'm going to let y'all do the writing and everything," Grant told the press before the game. "But yes, sir, I'll guard Price. I'll try to deny him the ball. The rest is up to him. I just hope he's missing his shot." Then he added, as if dictating a press release: "He's like a general out there—my nickname." Grant's defensive prowess went a long way toward easing the embarrassment of his own 0-for-10 shooting performance.
Yes, the number of turnovers (38), fouls (48) and missed shots (there were—pass the mortar and trowel, please—69 bricks) could indeed be ascribed to brilliantly executed defenses. At least that's the way Frieder preferred to see the contest. "It doesn't look like one to the public, because they don't understand defense," Frieder said, "but it was a great basketball game." The Yellow Jackets held Michigan to 31.1% shooting, but lost because they shot just 29.6% from the field and 52% from the line themselves. They did, however, take with them the knowledge that they can bang with the best of the Big Ten. As Salley says, "The only way you learn how to fight is by getting beat up."
As for the Wolverines, their sluggishness could be laid to everything from jet lag—they had opened their season with two tough games in Hawaii—to the first-stringers' disorienting experience of having freshmen show them up all week in practice. The regulars hadn't played well at practice, and all had heard it from their coach, none more than Joubert.
Says Frieder, "I got on his tail."