The Wolverine

November 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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������ where are they Now? Basketball���s Tom Staton Became ���Tournament Tom��� As A Freshman S By Chris Balas ome college basketball players, like former 1980s Michigan standout Glen Rice, have had to wait until their last years for a taste of NCAA Tournament glory. Others, like early 2000s guard Daniel Horton, never even get to sip from the cup. Fate, though, was kind to former Michigan captain and wing Tom Staton. The highly heralded freshman out of Ferndale, Mich., had enjoyed a prep All-America career before he arrived in 1975 with a collection of talent he and his teammates would later call Michigan���s ���first Fab Five.��� Junior college transfer Rickey Green and forward Phil Hubbard were the gems of the group, both destined for All-America honors and eventual NBA careers after helping lead Michigan to the 1976 national championship game against Indiana. Had it not been for Staton, though, they wouldn���t have made it that far. The ���Ferndale Flash��� was a bit player for the better part of his freshman year, but as senior forward Wayman Britt���s brittle knees became an issue, head coach Johnny Orr started to call Staton���s number more often. ���If I got two minutes, three minutes a game early on. That was a lot,��� Staton recalled. ���But because of my ability to defend and because Wayman was hurting, I started seeing more and more time picking up the slack. I couldn���t beat Dave Baxter out as the second guard or find time at the point guard, but I found a way to get into the lineup, getting five, six, seven minutes a game.��� Though surrounded by some of the nation���s best talent, Staton had skills of his own. He was a terrific leaper and a capable scorer, but really found his niche early as a defensive stopper. He���d fully admit, though, that Orr was in desperation mode when the coach called his number in the first round of the 1976 NCAA Tournament in Denton, Texas. Staton was engrossed in a conversation with Bax- 112��� the wolverine��� ������ NOVEMBER 2011 Staton, seen here with coach Bill Frieder, sparked Michigan���s run to the 1976 national championship game with some timely scoring and strong defensive play off the bench. photo courtesy tom staton ter on the bench when Orr, his team down 13 to a Wichita State team boasting a few All-Americans of its own, called for the little-used freshman to help save a season in which the Wolverines had finished 25-7 and second in the Big Ten to Indiana. ���We just knew we were going home, right in the first round. On the bench Dave and I were saying, ���We���ve got to do this!������ Staton recalled. ���All of a sudden someone yells, ���Staton!��� I said, ���Huh?��� ��� and I grab a towel. I���m like, ���What ��� do they want me to bring coach a towel down there or something?������ Nervous as any freshman would be in such a critical moment on such a big stage, Staton wasn���t oblivious to the enormity of the moment. When Green passed him the ball against Wichita State���s pressure, he immediately sent it right back. ���I was thinking, ���I���m not going to do anything with this!������ Staton re- called with a laugh. ���Rickey���s under pressure, so he throws it back to me again.��� Staton, about a foot from the hash and inches from the out of bounds line, didn���t hesitate the second time. He let one fly from 23 feet, sprinting for the basket in case he missed. Instead, he caught his own make when his shot hit the bottom of the net. He was just getting started. After handing the ball to the official, he faked running down the floor, turned around in time to steal the inbounds pass and scored again, four points in a matter of seconds that proved to be the spark the 1976 Wolverines ��� the self proclaimed cardiac kids ��� would need to get past the Shockers. Five days later, Orr called his number again, and Staton did his part in locking down All-American Adrian Dantley in an 80-76 win over Notre Dame, sealing the game with a key steal down the stretch. In Ann Arbor and throughout the state, Staton had become ���Tournament Tom,��� and it started with one shot. ���We were in the airport on the way to Philadelphia for the Final Four, and I was really feeling good, especially about the ���Tournament Tom��� thing,��� Staton recalled. ���We���re walking in the airport with the team, and we���re passing Johnny sitting in a chair. He says, ���Staton, you���re playing great! We knew you could do it! But let me tell you something son ��� had you missed that first shot that you took down there in Texas, you never would have played again!������ The Wolverines advanced to the championship game and led Indiana, the undefeated Big Ten champions ��� unbeaten only because officials allowed a Hoosiers tip-in to stand against Michigan in Bloomington even though it came after the buzzer, Staton noted ��� at the half before falling, 86���68. The future was still extremely bright, and Staton and the Wolverines would be the favorites to win the Big Ten a year later. They responded with a 26-4 overall record and 16-2 mark in the Big Ten to capture the title, making it to the Elite Eight before Cedric ���Cornbread��� Maxwell and UNC Charlotte ended the dream. The Wolverines had cut another big deficit to one in the second half before

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