The Wolverine

November 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Basketball's Ben Cronin Persevered To Earn His Championship Ring M BY CHRIS BALAS ost "Where Are they Now?" pieces are reserved for players who hit winning shots or earned All- Big Ten accolades. Some of the better ones involve players who enjoyed long professional careers or spent a decade overseas, earned success in the coaching profession, or both, like former Michigan and NBA forward and Houston Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich or point guard and current Michigan assistant Travis Conlan. Every now and then, though, a Ben Cronin comes along with a story worth sharing. of games before injuries ended his career, Cronin earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. As one of head coach John Beilen's first re- cruits, he also earned a Big Ten cham- pionship ring. While he played in only a handful confirmed after his second day as a student teacher at Dexter High School, just west of Ann Arbor. "That was our goal when I first came to Michigan, to help bring the program back." "They did give me one," Cronin Cronin appeared in seven games at U-M before a hip injury ended his playing career, but he stayed on as a student assistant and helped lead the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title since 1986. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS He just didn't get it the way he'd planned, and he almost didn't get it at all. First noticed by Beilein when he was a sophomore at Henninger High School near Syracuse, N.Y., Cronin wasn't the most highly re- cruited seven-footer in the country. He was raw, having played only four years of organized basketball, but Beilein — then at West Virginia — saw the potential. Moreover, he saw how much his teachers and coaches respected him, and how good a teammate he was. Cronin also boasted great hands and a knack for blocking shots, as well as incredible poise when teams would send waves of defenders to literally hang on his arms in the paint. He swatted shots like he was waving at flies, a school-record 17 in one game in front of Beilein in earn- ing his first offer prior to his junior year. He and his family were loyal 116 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2012 to the coach even when Beilein left West Virginia for Ann Arbor, Cronin following him entirely on faith. At that point, West Virginia was advancing deep into NCAA Tourna- ments. Michigan was coming off a stretch in which it hadn't been to the Big Dance in a decade. "Ben once asked me if there was a time that Michigan was ever good in basketball," Beilein once said, the first of many teaching moments for a man who had to explain to more than one recruit what made Cazzie Russell so great for the Wolverines in the 1960s. Cronin had his own aspirations of having his name mentioned with the Michigan greats one day. Like many his size, however, he under- went some growing pains — literally — before he ever made it to college. He tore his labrum in high school not long after his father suddenly passed away, leaving him in physical pain and with the responsibility of filling a void that made him the patriarch to his younger siblings. Leaving them for Ann Arbor was difficult, but Cro- nin received encouragement from his family and Henninger head coach Erik Saroney, a Beilein disciple with strong ties to the coach. His first semester brought more adversity. University doctors consid- ered operating on his hip even be- fore he arrived at Michigan, but Cro- nin opted for rehab first. When that failed, he underwent season-ending surgery in January of his freshman year after playing in only two games. Doctors deemed the operation a success. Cronin, though, knew something they didn't, even if he didn't immediately share it with the coaches. "As much as I worked on rehab- bing it, it would feel good one day and twice as bad the next," he said. "Seeing myself improving, mov- ing well but then deteriorating was tough." Yet he continued to do what was asked of him in strength and condi-

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