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Posted on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

Former Michigan star Cazzie Russell named to National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

By Michael Rothstein


Michigan All-American Cazzie Russell (33) in a 1965 game against Iowa at Yost Arena. Russell will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in November.

File photo

Cazzie Russell came from Chicago, a player headed to a school with no basketball tradition. He arrived at Michigan in 1962 as a name with potential for a better future.

He left a legend.

Forty-five years after he departed, Russell will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

“What a great honor,” Russell said after the Hall of Fame's Class of 2011 was announced on Monday.

Before Russell became the player that spawned the building of Crisler Arena — known in Ann Arbor as “The House that Cazzie Built” — he was a special player who, along with his highly-regarded teammates, turned a moribund Michigan basketball program at a football school into a basketball power.


Cazzie Russell looks up at the Yost Arena crowd before his last home game as a Wolverine on March 6, 1966.

File photo

“All of us went to Michigan to become a star because they were so terrible, we felt anybody could be a hero there,” said former Michigan captain Larry Tregoning, who was a year ahead of Russell. “So we all went to Michigan and, yeah, we did well immediately.

“…We knew we were going to be good. When that freshman class joined us, we determined and thought we would be one of the better teams in the country. But it was a bad basketball program until we got there.”

The two years before Russell arrived on campus, Michigan went 6-18 and 7-17. In his freshman year, when he and his recruiting class couldn’t play due to NCAA rules, Michigan went 16-8 with Tregoning and future All-American Bill Buntin.

That was a prelude to the next year with Russell, which started a string of three straight Big Ten championships, two Final Four appearances and a National Player of the Year award for Russell his senior year in 1965-66.

“He was a key to that,” said former Michigan coach Johnny Orr, who recruited Russell when he was an assistant at Wisconsin. “He had Bill Buntin, Larry Tregoning, those guys, they were terrific.”

Russell was the star.

When he left Michigan, he was the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,163 points. More than 40 years later, he still has the fifth-highest total in school history and he’s the only one in the top 5 who played less than four seasons.

He still owns the school record for highest scoring average in a single season (30.8 points in 1965-66) and in a career (27.1).

Even though Buntin and guys who played professional basketball, like John Clawson and Oliver Darden, surrounded Russell, he was the electrifying presence. It was his closeness with those players and other teammates that stuck out to Russell on Monday, when he spoke about the honor.

“Winning the Big Ten three years in a row and me coming out of Chicago, the college life and the opportunity to have the God-given gift to play basketball,” Russell said. “I would say my relationship with a lot of players, college life and having the chance to go to a great institution and to meet and play with a lot of guys where that friendship goes on for years.”

Clawson said that the allure of Russell was immediate. Their first college scrimmage — the freshmen against the varsity — was sold out. And Clawson said the Wolverines never played in anything but a full arena -- either Yost Arena or on the road -- during his entire varsity career from 1963-66.

“We were playing with somebody who was so exceptional that we could ride along on his back, you know,” Clawson said. “He did things not too many people did in those days. Going through traffic for his little slam dunks was always a lot of fun.


Cazzie Russell, center, smiles as fans cheer for him and other former players during part of the festivities surrounding Crisler Arena's 40th anniversary in 2008.

File photo

“Not little slam dunks. He didn’t have the greatest hops in the whole world, but fabulous timing. He got the most out of his jumping ability and you’d have to say about Cazzie, he got the most out of everything in all facets.”

Tregoning said Russell always seemed to have a basketball in his hands. When he came to Michigan, he wasn’t a great shooter — so he made himself into one. He’d beat his classmate, Clawson, to the gym every day and leave after he was gone.

In games, he always wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

“That showed you something about the confidence this young fella had,” Tregoning said. “He was a go-to guy right from the beginning.”

By the time he left, Russell was the best player in Michigan history. He is one of five players, including Buntin, to have his number hanging in the rafters of Crisler Arena, but is the only one to have his number, No. 33, retired.

Now he joins a Hall of Fame class with Ralph Sampson (Virginia), Chris Mullin (St. John’s), James Worthy (North Carolina), former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, former Indiana, Army and Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight, television pioneer Eddie Einhorn and former NABC director Joe Vancisin that will be inducted in November in Kansas City.

Orr says he's surprised the induction has taken so long.

“I kind of am, because he’s got to be one of the greatest players to ever play for Michigan,” he said.

Michael Rothstein covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

I can remember watching this team play for the first 2 years, then I left for the USAF. Somehow we were able to pick up the games in Texas at night and we loved it, all of us from Michigan huddled over the little radio listening to Cazzie and the team. He was and still is a class act. Many of us are fortunate to have seen him play, Good memories!!!


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

A great guy with a great team. And, back then, you had to win the Big Ten outright to go to the NCAA's, one Big Ten team went and the others stayed home. The season really meant something back then. And the Big Ten was loaded. Minnesota had Archie Clark, Don Yates and Lou Hudson, Indiana had the Van Arsdale twins, Jimmy Rayl and John McGlocklin, Illinois had Tal Brody and Skip Thoren, Michigan State had Stan Washington and Pete Gent (Dallas Cowboys), Ohio State with Gary Bradds, and so on. Beyond the Big Ten, Cazzie's teams beat Wichita State with Dave Stallworth, Detroit with Dave Debusscherre, Duke with Jack Marin and Jeff Mullins, Princeton with Bill Bradley, Vanderbilt with Clyde Lee, Davidson with Fred Hetzel, Western Kentucky with Clem Haskins and so on! Unfortunately, could not get past UCLA with Gail Goodrich and Kentucky with Louie Dampier and Pat Riley!! During those years, the entire team was made up of Michigan Basketball players as Head Coach Dave Strack and Assistants Jim Skala and Tom Jorgenson were former UM basketball players. Truly a Michigan team!! Cazzie was the Humble Hero that continues to represent that era (Pomey, Tregoning, Clawson, Thompson, Buntin, Herner, Cantrell, Darden, Myers, Brown, Van Tillotson, etc.) well and never put himself above the team. A true Michigan Man!! Congrats!


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 4 p.m.

Hey WWBoDo, do you know where Tregoning, and also Cantrell are these days, and what they're doing? Also, mentioning Jimmy Rayl really takes me back, I think he might have preceded most of the guys you list -- I remember listening to games on radio (Ft Wayne WOWO?), Rayl pouring in 35, 45 a game. Little tiny guy.


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

Don't forget Bob Verga of Duke. One of the best games I ever seen (and I've seen alot) was at Cobo Hall in Detroit against Duke, and the lead changed hands something like 67 times. Cazzie hit a shot at the buzzer (would've been a trey today, but didn't have those then), to send it into OT. Verga was on fire the whole game, the guy was an animal, only 6'1", but a brute, and incredible shooter and Duke pulled it out in the end. I remember some "boom box" (before they called them that) booming Fontella Bass' "Rescue Me" out of the Duke Locker Room, as we all went by them down the small hall to the UM Locker Room, the Duke guys whooping and hollering cause they just won, and all the Michigan guys crestfallen.


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 2 p.m.

In that top photo, that's George Pomey (44), who I think is still around Ann Arbor (I think he did some national State Farm ads in the 80s, and he was a broker then.) 55 is Oliver Darden who, last I knew, owned and ran one or more Burger King outlets around Montgomery Ala. And the star of it all (in addition to Cazzie) was Yost Field House. It was a superb place to watch a game -- everyone packed in tight. That place would roar all game long. There were two student managers who would come out at half time to dry-mop the floor; I was a ball boy, and we'd hear them right next to us, by the massive cast iron basket support, just before starting their laps, swear to each other that there would be "No racing." But they'd start their long mop-laps up and down the court, and the idle crowd would start cheering and razzzing them, so that by the last lap they both were sprinting as hard as they could to beat the other, the crowd roaring, and the managers laughing and breathless at the end. A great crowd favorite. Cazzie had the biggest hands you ever saw. Bill Buntin had the most magnetic smile and manner. And they all wore those flimsy Chuck Taylors back then. What an era.


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

Tregoning is still in the area and doing well! A great guy in every sense of the word! For Cantrell, I would go to <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>. Despite all of this, he was a tough competitor, did a number on Manny Newsome of Western Michigan and took great delight in beating Branch McCracken Indiana teams. He and Herner were a great back court in the years before Cazzie! I wish him well for the future.


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 3:50 p.m.

We rode together to that game, I remember it well, Bill!

Jim Knight

Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 1:49 p.m.

The cutline on the main photograph was changed to reflect that Michigan was facing Iowa.


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

nice story about Michigan's all time greatest player. sad that the caption under the picture says playing Minnesota and the players jersey and the scoreboard says Iowa nobody check's anything these days.


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Russell was a true great and merits inclusion in the HOF.

Marshall Applewhite

Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 2:47 a.m.

FYI: Your caption in picture #1 says the game was against Minnesota, but the scoreboard in the picture clearly says &quot;Iowa&quot;

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

good eye MA. I see now that the dark jersey on the right side also clearly says Iowa.


Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 12:59 a.m.

I'm shocked he wasn't already in. Congratulations to Cazzie. He certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame.

james Kurtz

Tue, Mar 1, 2011 : 12:25 a.m.

There is no question about it: Cazzie was the best basketball player to ever attend Michigan.


Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 11:35 p.m.

This is long overdue.I can't believe he was not already in.One of THE BEST BASKETBALL PLAYERS for any time in college basketball History.And very Classy also.Cazzie is a True Treasure for Michigan Basketball,PERIOD.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 10:39 p.m.

I'm still wondering how Gail Goodrich put up 42 points......

David Briegel

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 11 p.m.

Defense? lol


Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 9:21 p.m.

May we know what took so long?

David Briegel

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 11 p.m.

I don't think M helped him because he didn't get his degree. Not too positive though.

David Briegel

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Long overdue recognition for a real Michigan Man!! I was home from basic training for Christmas and my bro took me to see Cazzie and M beat fellow all American Jeff Mullins and Duke! It was a thrilling experience as M had struggled previously. And we sat right in front of Ron Kramer!! I had never seen a player like Cazzie before. Great Memory!!


Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 8:22 p.m.

Cazzie applied to become the head basketball coach at UM but was not never given consideration after all he did for the program. He put Um basketball on the map. Like I said, good enough to play the at UM but not good enough represent the school as a head coach. I hope the young African American players and recruits become acquainted with Cazzie's story.


Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

Cazzie has another lesser known AA connection -- he was a student teacher in PE at Tappan in the mid-late 60s.


Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 8 p.m.

Pretty cool. Honoring him at a home football game would be a great idea.