College Basketball's best intersectional rivalry, the UCLA-Notre Dame of its day, is now Duke versus Michigan. The Blue Devils and the Wolverines have hooked up to provide some wonderful early December diversions over the last few seasons, something to lure us home from Christmas shopping at the mall. To be sure, last Saturday's meeting in Ann Arbor was raggedy and not nearly as dramatic as the Fab Five's coming-out party against Duke, an overtime loss at Crisler Arena in 1991. Nor was it as intense as the Blue Devils' silencing of the No. 1-ranked Wolverines in Durham a year ago. (The run-up to that game included all sorts of incendiary jabbering, talk conspicuously absent from this year's game.) But Duke's 73-63 victory, on the eve of a break for exams on both campuses, proved nonetheless to contain some revealing lessons.
It showed that the Blue Devils have a fully mature center in Cherokee Parks, and that the Wolverines, with Chris Webber gone, desperately need a big man to back up or play alongside the redoubtable Juwan Howard. More than anything, though, the game made clear that wherever these two teams are going in the months ahead, Grant Hill and Jalen Rose will take them there. Rose, a junior, scored 31 points for the Wolverines in his usual nonchalant style while playing all 40 minutes of the game. Hill, a senior, gave a foretaste of how he intends to fill the role he inherited from Bobby Hurley, the former Blue Devil point guard (page 26). Hill scored 18 points on the day and made all three of his three-point attempts.
Rose and Hill are totems that, unfairly or not, have come to stand for their respective programs. The superficial analysis pegs Rose as the truant and Hill as the standard-bearer. But, in fact, they share many similarities. Each is 6'8". Each has a splendid array of skills adaptable to any position on the floor. Each has a strong-willed mother, and each has an All-America dad—in Rose's case, the former Providence and NBA star Jimmy Walker; in Hill's, the onetime Yale running back Calvin Hill, who later was a Pro Bowler in the NFL.
But Rose, unlike Hill, didn't spend the off-season appearing with his school's president on PBS's Charlie Rose Show, or quoting Max Lerner and Aristotle in an address to the National Association of Basketball Coaches' Issues Forum, or being quoted himself in The New York Times on serving as a role model for black youth. The social theorists might say this is because Grant's father never misses his son's games, and Jalen has seen his dad only on film. The social theorists might well be right.
December 20, 1993
Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom tracked down Walker in Atlanta last spring and writes of their encounter in his new book, Fab Five. Walker told Albom that he followed his son from afar. He said that if he had it to do over, he would have stayed in touch—but in the next breath he denied having any regrets about having abandoned Jalen and his mother, Jeanne, in the early 1970s. Yet he asked Albom to pass his phone number along. "Tell [Jalen] to call me, if he wants," Walker said.
Walker's son wears his pedigree as he does his shorts—long, full, flapping in the breeze. His origins are always there: in the gangsta rap blaring from his boom box, in his half-put-on self-centeredness (asked at last spring's Final Four whether he feared anything, Rose said, "Death, 'cause I can't imagine the world without me in it"), in the black patch he wore on his jersey last Saturday in memory of Johnny Moore, a cousin who was gunned down in Detroit last week. In his book Albom describes Rose behaving like a petulant pain in the ass during Michigan's European tour two summers ago. Said Rose at one point, "I'm a product of my environment, and this ain't it."
Walker was the Jalen Rose of his time. He had the same outrageous confidence, the same abiding determination to be different, the same loping insouciance on the court. After college those traits took a more serious turn, and he became a shirker and a scapegrace, tailed by the IRS and various women who claimed he had fathered their children. In the NBA, Walker missed planes and practices and was regularly fined for his transgressions. Just as Rose was ticketed by the police last year for loitering at a house where drugs were being used (though he was never charged with a crime in the incident) and ignored the pleas of his mother and brother that he forsake the friendships that had placed him there, his dad kept up with someone he had known as a kid in Roxbury, Mass., even after the guy got sent up for killing a store clerk. These are my friends, father said then, son says now. So maybe it's true that the apple never falls far from the tree, even when the tree pulls up roots.
"I can't get him no tickets," was Rose's reaction when Albom relayed Walker's invitation to call. He declined even to take his father's number. Then, impulsively, on the day of last spring's NCAA tournament final against North Carolina, Rose asked Albom for the number. Several times he picked up the phone and started to dial. Each time he put the receiver back down. When Jeanne found out later that her son had considered calling the man who ran out on them two decades ago, she was furious. "If he wants to see you, let him come up here," she told him. As of last week father and son still had not spoken.
Without a father, Rose had to improvise a support system. Webber was one crucial part of it. The two developed a fascinating symbiosis: Chris, who attended a fancy-pants private high school at his parents' insistence, helped take the edge off Jalen's goofiness; Jalen, a neighborhood friend since grade school, kept Chris's street credentials in order. Rose enjoyed a reciprocal relationship, too, with Perry Watson, who had coached him at Detroit's Southwestern High before coming to Ann Arbor as a Michigan assistant coach. Watson played the role Walker abandoned, while recruiting Rose helped Watson land the Michigan job.
In both of these relationships, however, Rose's need was a little more desperate. This season, with Webber gone to the Golden State Warriors and Watson off to the University of Detroit Mercy as its new head coach, Rose's ability to adapt will determine whether the Wolverines fulfill the predictions that they'll win the Big Ten, something they failed to do in two tries with Webber. "Their leaving has made me stronger," says Rose of Webber's and Watson's departure. "I realize everything's on me, as far as what kind of player, person and student I'm going to be."
He has improved on all counts. Freed of point guard responsibilities, Rose is getting clear paths for dribble drives to the basket and sallies to the offensive boards. (The new starter, sophomore Dugan Fife, a scrubbed-to-a-shine, son-of-a-coach point guard from the Silverdome suburbs, makes Michigan seem a little like Parliament-Funkadelic with Jim Nabors singing lead.) Rose's academic performance has been "significantly more responsible," says Wolverine coach Steve Fisher. And after two years of wearing his practice jersey backward, Rose now wears it the same old dull way everybody else does. Did Fisher order him to do so? "I may have," he says. "But I didn't have to."
Michigan's more businesslike manner concerns Fisher, who suspects that his team may need some of the dodgy trappings of the past two seasons, whether they be words, gestures or both. "At times they needed to be emotional, especially as freshmen," says Fisher. "It helped them be better than they were. I've told them this season that I'm worried sometimes that they show no emotion. It's like they're just going to work. It's that fine line: You don't want them to lose concentration, but you want them excited."
The Wolverines' best moments against Duke occurred in the final five minutes, when they trapped and pressed furiously and nearly retrieved the game. But with only nine players on scholarship, and no frontcourt size, Fisher can only order up such frenzy in rationed doses. What's more, the Fab Five without Webber is like a choir short one of its leading voices. "Chris had so much personality," said Duke's Marty Clark afterward. "The way I saw it, they lacked a little expressiveness today. At their best they're talking and they're cocky, hitting shots and playing D. It just wasn't there for 40 minutes."
Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski's challenge with Hill is just the opposite of the one Fisher had when Rose was an underclassman. The task isn't to tone Hill down but to bring him out. "I don't want to look back at this year and regret that I didn't do this or that," says Hill. "My approach will be like a normal pickup game. Maybe smile, maybe frown. Be more emotional, more vocal, instead of keeping that stone face whether we're winning by 20 or down by 20." In other words, while Rose makes more like Hill, Hill wants a little more Rose in his game.
"Grant can play every position," says Krzyzewski. "And has. And will."
However, there's no more effective place for him than at the top of the key, with the ball and an unobstructed view of the floor. In Hill, Duke has the best player in the country to take advantage of this season's two most significant rule changes: the shorter, 35-second shot clock and the abolition of the five-second call when a dribbler is closely guarded. "Those rules will hurt most teams," says Hill. "But often they'll help us. I can mess with the ball outside and then still get a decent shot." And if the defense springs a trap, Hill is tall enough to see over it and hit the open man.
With four freshmen Krzyzewski has had so many questions about his team's chemistry that, in search of answers, he started four different lineups in Duke's first four games. The most emphatic response has come from Parks, the 6'11" junior from Huntington Beach, Calif. To hail from a Southern California beach town is one thing, to be a surfer and the son of flower children is likely to make you laid-back twice over. "Cherokee wants to play the safe role," says Clark, his roommate. "He wants to be safe."
What an astonishment, then, to see Parks in the game's opening moments take two quick outside shots coming off screens, as if he were that nimble Dookie of yore, Jack Marin. He buried the first; the second was the only shot he missed all afternoon. Largely as a result of Parks's 23 points and nine rebounds, the Wolverines' class of '95 still hasn't beaten Duke in four tries, including the 1992 national title game.
As for Hill and Rose, they talked during the game, but it was all sweet talk. "It wasn't, 'I'm gonna do you in,' " Hill says. "It was more, if I had a nice move, he'd tell me so. If he had one, I'd tell him."
Who would have thought? Duke versus Michigan, a vicarage tea party. These two 6'8" convertibles, one taut-limbed, the other loose, are, if not the game's yin and yang, its thing and thang. Nice that they got along so well on Saturday.