As the Michigan basketball team returns to its traditional place among the nation's elite programs, Alan Glenn, in a Michigan Today piece, looks back a half-century at another time when the program resurrected itself, led by Cazzie Russell, Cager for the Ages
Bob Cantrell played in the Wolverine backcourt before and after Russell's arrival. "The first two years were really torture," he told an interviewer in the '70s. "The roof [at Yost Field House] leaked, there were no fans, we lost all the time. It was just unbelievable. We only had about 200 people at one game, I remember. Everything was football. Basketball was the big joke. If you were a basketball player, everybody looked at you like you were a freak. Then, overnight, they knew who you were. All of a sudden, we were the number one team in the country."
Of course Michigan's reversal of fortune wasn't quite that abrupt, and it wasn't all due to Russell. Coach Dave Strack had been building up the team since 1960, and by 1963 the Wolverine lineup overflowed with talent: Cantrell, Bill Buntin, Larry Tregoning, George Pomey, Oliver Darden. But it was Cazzie Russell who emerged as the star. Almost as soon as the lanky, six-foot-five-and-a-half, 210-pound guard stepped out onto the court, records began to fall. In his first game, a 90-76 victory over Ball State at the end of November, Russell led the team with 30 points. By the following March he had acquired 640 more, earning him the school's season scoring record.
Also included with the article is this vintage video: