The Wolverine

March 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MARCH 2019 THE WOLVERINE 93 BY JOHN BORTON A sk any Michigan basketball observer of the mid-1970s about Steve Grote, and the an- swers won't vary much: tough, determined, hard-edged and intensely competitive. Mental images of Grote fly- ing over the benches and into the stands trying to save way- ward basketballs flood back. He injected serious guard grit to the hugely talented Johnny Orr teams from 1973-77. In fact, Grote came to Michi- gan on an official football visit from his home in Cincinnati. Bo Schembechler fancied him as a hard-hitting defender in a winged helmet. "He was quoted one time saying one of his best players was playing basketball, after I had finally signed," Grote recalled. Even after the multi-sport star committed to play basketball, it wasn't over. The plan involved him coming to Michigan on a basketball scholarship, but participating in spring football his first year on cam- pus. At that point, a final decision could be made on his direction. That thinking, of course, predated Grote's rookie basketball campaign. He averaged 13.0 points per game and shot 48.9 percent for a crew of Wolverines who went 22-5. "I thought I was good enough to play basketball as a freshman," Grote observed. "The people who recruited me didn't think that. "Things worked out very well for me in basketball my freshman year. Everything fell into place." Few saw it coming. Over Orr 's first five years at Michigan, the Wol- verines were a modest 69-53, living in the growing shadow of Schem- bechler's early squads. Grote's rookie season, the situation wasn't expected to be much different. "My freshman year, we were a big, big underdog in almost every single game," Grote said. "We were picked to finish ninth in a 10-team confer- ence. We beat almost everybody, and we tied Indiana for the Big Ten cham- pionship. To do so, we had to beat a really good Michigan State team, on the road, in the last game of the year [103-87]." The Wolverines then invaded As- sembly Hall in a special Big Ten tie- breaker, knocking off the Hoosiers (75-67) to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Michigan then beat an extremely strong Notre Dame squad (77-68) before bowing out to Mar- quette (72-70). "It was an incredible year, that would go down as one of Michigan's best," Grote said. As for the rookie guard himself, football went permanently onto the back burner. "[Michigan assistant coach] Jim Dutcher said, after the first practice, they knew that I was going to be a starting guard," Grote recalled. "Where I grew up, the competitive nature of sports just gave me an amaz- ing advantage. A lot of kids come in, when they're being recruited, asking about the players in the program, what would be their chance to play. "I didn't ask any of those questions. All of those things get answered on the court. You come in, and if you're good enough, you play. I was just very, very confident that play- ing time would fall into place for me." Certainly, his freshman sea- son fell into place. He and his teammates were looking for more the next year, despite the loss of Campy Russell, who averaged 23 points per game in 1973-74 and jumped to the NBA. "Had Campy Russell come back, we might have won the NCAA cham- pionship that year," Grote mused. As it was, the Wolverines went 19-8 and finished second in the Big Ten. They lost in a crusher of a first-round West Region game of the NCAA Tour- nament to UCLA (103-91 in overtime). "We should have beaten UCLA," Grote recalled. "C.J. Kupec had one of the greatest games in the history of Michigan basketball. "We ran that last play in regulation to get him a shot on the weak side. My role was to come down and set a pick for him, and he came away from the basket to the top of the key. My man switched off, and I was wide open on the wing. "I was just hoping he saw my man coming out to double him. He didn't, and there's no reason why he would. I think he ended up with 42 points in that game." Michigan ended up losing in the extra session, but that only fueled the Wolverines for the following year. It's   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Steve Grote Played Hardball In U-M's Basketball Turnaround In the four seasons Grote played at Michigan (1973‑77), the Wolverines participated in the NCAA Tournament every year — a first in school history. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETICS Grote, who started all 27 games in his first season at Michigan "I thought I was good enough to play basketball as a fresh- man. The people who recruited me didn't think that."

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