Family's Michigan legacy is lost on Montross UNC center bucks Big Ten tradition

April 06, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

NEW ORLEANS -- Eric Montross abandoned a family legacy when he chose to attend the University of North Carolina instead of Michigan.

Montross' father and grandfather both were Michigan men. Grandfather Johnny Townsend, a 6-6 guard, was a three-time All-American known as the "Houdini of the Hardwood." Dad Scott Montross, now an Indianapolis attorney, was a reserve on the 1965 Final Four team.

"When I was growing up, I really followed the Big Ten schools," said Eric, the 7-foot, 270-pound junior center from Indianapolis's Lawrence North High. "But that was because I really didn't know any better."

Michigan coach Steve Fisher made Montross a priority recruit.

"We really wanted him," Fisher said.

Michigan met Montross and the Tar Heels for the NCAA championship last night. Montross proved to be too much for Kansas to handle Saturday, when he scored 23 points as North Carolina advanced with a 78-68 victory.

Montross shot 9-for-14 and dominated play inside. Most of his field goals came off lob passes that he turned into easy shots.

"We knew Montross was big," said Greg Ostertag, the Jayhawks' 7-2 backup center. "And when he got the ball, he was almost unstoppable. They'd just lob him the ball in there and we couldn't do anything about it because of his strength."

Montross usually got the ball in single-coverage situations because Kansas did not provide enough help inside.

"Sometimes you can catch a team off guard if you go inside early," Montross said. "It wasn't like I was trying to make a statement or anything like that, but I wanted them to know it wasn't going to be easy inside."

Carolina scored its first seven baskets within 10 feet of the hoop. The Tar Heels' first perimeter shot did not come until 12 minutes, 44 seconds of the first half, when Donald Williams made a three-pointer. It was the first of five he would make in seven attempts, en route to a game-high 25 points.

"Offensively, we wanted to go inside and, hopefully, open up the outside shot," North Carolina forward George Lynch said. "We got good looks at the basket. There was no reason to go to any other option."

The Tar Heels wound up shooting 28-for-52, and were in control the entire way.

"If Eric can get his man on his back, we're going to get him the ball," Carolina lead guard Derrick Phelps said. "Because when you do that, we know three things can happen: We know we're going to get the score, get a second shot or get fouled."

That might change against physically imposing Michigan, which already has a last-second, 79-78 victory over North Carolina to its credit this season. That was in the semifinals of the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu in December.

Montross might not choose to remember the details, but Michigan forward Chris Webber dominated play in that matchup with 28 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots -- three on Montross. Montross finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Montross, who became friends with Webber at Princeton's 1989 Nike camp, could have played on the same front line had he chosen Michigan. He could have played on the same front line as National Player of the Year Calbert Cheaney, had he opted to stay home and play for Indiana.

"When I decided to leave home, I got a lot of negative mail from some IU fans," he said. "My father didn't even show me most of it. But I had to do what was best for me."

Montross is proud of his decision. In fact, he even has an Indiana license plate on the back of his car that reads, "Tar Heels."

"When I come home, I have to bolt it down," Montross said. "I'm afraid someone will deface it."

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