Michigan, and Ellerbe's stock, is rising

On Men's Basketball

January 23, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

They saw their coach fired in October. Then they lost their opener at home to Western Michigan in mid-November. It didn't appear that December would be any better for the Michigan Wolverines, with losses to Eastern Michigan and Bradley.

And it didn't appear that Brian Ellerbe, the former Loyola coach who was named interim coach for the season when Steve Fisher was let go, had much chance of being named to a permanent position once the season was over. But things have changed dramatically in the past month.

Since losing to Eastern Michigan four days after giving then and now top-ranked Duke its only loss of the season, the Wolverines have gone 8-1. Michigan (14-4) leads the Big Ten at 5-1 going into Sunday's nationally televised game at Illinois.

"The key thing for this team has been getting some balance," Ellerbe said yesterday from Ann Arbor. "Every coach works really hard to try to get to that point. And we've consistently been pretty good defensively. Traditionally, Michigan hasn't been looked upon as a defensive team."

The Wolverines are 12th in the country in field-goal defense. But their offensive balance has really been crucial to their success, as evidenced by recent wins over Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan scored 79 points in each game.

The Spartans tried to shut down Michigan's guards, and big men Robert Traylor and Maceo Baston combined for 43 points. The Buckeyes tried to stop the inside game, and guards Louis Bullock, Robbie Reid and Travis Conlan had a combined 46.

"It seems like everyone has been able to step up at the right time," said Bullock, the junior from Laurel who has come out of an early-season shooting slump to hit 33 of his last 55 threes. "We've been able to keep teams off-balance. It's a combination of some of the things we did under Coach Fisher and some new things Coach Ellerbe put in."

The most recent win might have been the most satisfying. Even though it came against Minnesota, a team threatening to go from first to worst in the Big Ten, the Michigan players had a special incentive.

They remembered last year, when the Gophers celebrated their Big Ten championship on Michigan's home court. "I thought it was a disgrace for them to come in here and cut down the nets," said Traylor, the senior center. "Hopefully we can do that at the end of the year."

If the Wolverines win the Big Ten, Ellerbe's promotion to full-time coach should be a lock. First-year athletic director Tom Goss said that Ellerbe has certainly improved his position, but won't make any decisions yet.

Said Ellerbe: "I don't think it's good to make that the focus right now. The focus is on the team. Right now there's nothing more important than the Illinois game. We're not concerned with anything in the future."

No longer Wayne's world

The news last Saturday that Monmouth coach Wayne Szoke had announced his resignation after 11 years surprised his players and assistants.

While on the surface it might appear that he was quitting on a team that had lost 13 of its first 14 games this season, Szoke said he had thought about it as long as two years ago when the Hawks made the NCAA tournament.

"I may have even thought about it before that," said Szoke, a 1963 Maryland graduate who also coached at Columbia. "You get to a point in any relationship where you have to make a change. As of 7: 30 Saturday night, the kids probably forgot who the old coach was. They have short memories."

Monmouth is still looking for its first win under its new coach -- 29-year-old Dave Calloway is the youngest head coach in Division I -- heading into tomorrow's game against Central Connecticut.

Fresno State, next stop?

Lamar Odom was considered the best high school player in the country last year. That he went to three different high schools as a senior didn't deter college coaches from recruiting him. That he allegedly cheated on his SAT didn't sway coaches away from swooning over the 6-foot-9 forward.

Now, after leaving Nevada-Las Vegas last summer and failing to get his eligibility at Rhode Island, it will be interesting to see where Odom winds up. In his first semester at Rhode Island as a part-time student, Odom failed to receive the required 2.4 grade-point average to apply as a full-time student.

"He could apply again," said school president Robert Carothers. "Assuming he gets all his affairs in order, he can continue as a non-matriculating student. He has to pay tuition like anybody else."

That seems unlikely.

"I don't think he wants to go to college, or at least go to class," recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said yesterday. "I think he'll apply for the NBA or CBA."

Or the TBA. With the latest round of suspensions at Fresno State, there might be room under Jerry Tarkanian's salary cap.

Rim shots

Curtis Staples of Virginia has passed Georgia Tech alum Dennis Scott as the ACC's all-time three-point shot leader, with 352. The two remaining unbeatens, Stanford and Utah, will get tested in the next few days. After last night's game at Washington State, the Cardinal play at Washington tomorrow. The Utes are at UNLV tomorrow.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.