Ex-UM great Russell impressed by program's direction
Ann Arbor — Former Michigan standout Campy Russell has seen the good times at UM and some of the harder times. But the former All-American likes the trajectory the program is taking under coach John Beilein — back to the levels they reached during his heyday in the 1970s.
Russell returned to Crisler Center on Thursday night and was honored as one of the "Legends of the Game" during halftime of Michigan's matchup against Detroit in a regional game of the Legends Classic tournament.
Russell was impressed by how the Michigan program has changed in a short time.
"I was here a couple years ago when they had the reunion and they brought us back to see the brand new facility — and man, it's a different world from where I came from," Russell said. "That just shows the growth that has taken place in basketball and the NCAA and here at Michigan and the campus itself. I ride around here now and say, 'Man, is this the same place that I was at some 40-something years ago?' "
Russell broke the Michigan freshman scoring and rebounding marks in 1971-72 with 18.4 points and 9.6 rebounds. During his junior season, he was a co-captain and averaged 23.7 points, leading the Wolverines to a share of the Big Ten title and earned consensus All-America honors.
He played nine seasons in the NBA with the Cavaliers and Knicks and averaged 15.8 points and 4.8 rebounds, earning an All-Star selection in 1979.
With Michigan's two Big Ten titles and a trip to the championship game in the last three years, Russell thinks that the program is back in a position of national prominence, after a long drought before Beilein's tenure.
"I think it's all back — now, the thing to do is keep it all going," he said. "Coach Beilein has done an outstanding job with this program. Look at this facility — who wouldn't want to be a part of this?
"He's done a great job of putting this all together. When you win and you're successful and have a good, solid program, everybody wants to be a part of it. I'm sure the recruiting may be a little easier but you always have to go out there and work for the blue-chippers."
Russell, now the director of alumni relations with the Cavaliers, has seen Michigan players go through the NBA ranks and has been impressed by the quality over the years, including the recent players from Michigan. Talking with other NBA colleagues, the reputation has been building and the perception is positive.
"For the most part, they always knew there was talent there — that's well documented as well. Look back to Glen Rice, a super NBA player, Gary Grant, Phil Hubbard," he said. "There were definitely some lean years but if you look over the last three or four years, there has been a lot of young talent that has migrated to the NBA and made their mark there."
Michigan starts two freshmen, with Kam Chatman and Mark Donnal in the frontcourt. But in crunch time against Detroit, Beilein went to a veteran lineup of Derrick Walton Jr., Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Max Bielfeldt.
Albrecht said that Beilein mixes several different lineups in practices, but when Detroit was close in the second half, Beilein felt like he had to go with his experienced players rather than grow with some young ones.
"I didn't think it but yesterday in practice, we saw the same thing. Our scout team really pressured us and there's timing and so many things that happen with young guys that they have to learn," Beilein said. "They didn't turn it over as much and both those things were key."
Bielfeldt, who scored 18 Monday against Bucknell, scored four with five rebounds. Albrecht had six points, four rebounds and four assists.
Playing two point guards together was a tactic that Beilein said he might explore until his young freshmen could get some experience. He went to it to try to reduce turnovers and get into an offensive groove against the Titans — and it seemed to work.
"You see it at the next level. A lot of people are playing two point guards and they have a lot of young players like we do," Detroit coach Ray McCallum Sr. said. "I would do the same thing. You have to play guys that you trust."