Sitting next to his wife in the second row from the top in section 122 of Crisler Center, white hair shining under the lights, he looks like any one of a dozen or more men his age at a basketball game on a Friday night.
On second look, though, the differences start to peek out. He’s leaning forward in his seat, his posture that of a man twenty years his junior, icy blue eyes avidly following every movement on the hardwood gleaming beneath him. He balances a lineup on his leg, keeping track of the score and statistics for each player as the game progresses – “if I don’t, I’ll go nuts,” he says.
Across the floor, a banner sways gently in the rafters. Above the ever-present block ‘M,’ it reads: “NCAA Final Four, Men’s Basketball, 1964.” It is one of six Final Four banners hanging in Crisler Center for the maize and blue faithful to look up to.
When it first went up, it was the only one.
Most of the fans at Crisler now are too young to remember that 1964 team – if they were even alive. For many in the ranks of the Maize Rage a few rows down, 1964 is the year their parents were born, or the year their grandparents graduated college. Even for those who were alive in 1964, many of them were very young.
For almost everyone at this game, even the idea of 1964 is hazy.
Not for George Pomey.
George Pomey was on that team, the one that went to the first Final Four in school history, the one led by Cazzie Russell, the one that put that banner up. He was their starting guard, their fifth-best scorer by per game average. He played in every game of that magical 1964 season.
“The thing that made us a good team is that we had a lot of backup players,” Pomey said on Friday. “It wasn’t just the first five, it was the fact that we had 10, 11 good players, so we played against better competition in practice a lot of times than we did in games.”
The Wolverines of ’64 were a force to be reckoned with. They went 24-4 overall and 13-1 in the Big Ten before going on a tournament tear that ended painfully at the hands of John Wooden’s unbeatable UCLA Bruins. Pomey’s eyes light up as he recalls their undefeated home record, the close games that somehow went their way, the way that coach Dave Strack used to run their practices.
1964 was, by all definitions, a banner year.
“Well of course, when you win as much as we did, things are a lot happier with the whole group,” Pomey said. “We were fortunate to have a great coach in Dave Strack that taught us well enough to be able to play well, and our records were great. I think that comes back to the coaching.”
Fifty-five years on, and that team is still a major part of Pomey’s life. They have reunions – “little get-togethers” – every few years or so, and they’ve been honored in Ann Arbor on multiple occasions at the half-century anniversaries of their various still-impressive accomplishments.
“We won a lot, so we’ve been back a lot.”
They still keep in close touch, still keep tabs on what their teammates are up to. The friendships formed on the court are still very much alive in the real world, even 55 years later.
“A lot of us were in the same fraternity, so not only were we teammates, but very, very good friends as well,” Pomey said.
A senior on that ’64 squad, Pomey graduated in the spring, but Michigan basketball was too important to let go of just yet. In those days, freshmen were ineligible to compete for their colleges, playing instead on freshman teams within their programs. When Strack and then-athletic director Fritz Crisler offered Pomey a chance to lead Michigan basketball’s freshmen, staying on to further develop the program he helped build into a powerhouse was an easy choice.
“I was very fortunate — I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I was lucky that I was here, and had a background at Michigan, so at a very early age, I got to be freshman coach here at Michigan.”
It was a good time to be involved with Michigan basketball. Strack led the Wolverines back to the Final Four the following year in 1965, and to the Elite Eight the year after that In 1966.
After finishing grad school, Pomey left his role with the program, but Michigan basketball is still a big part of his life. He has season tickets — he has for years — and he rarely misses a game. He follows the team closely, score-sheet in hand.
He’s enthusiastic about what new head coach Juwan Howard will bring to the program, too. Pomey uncharacteristically missed the first few games of the season, traveling out of town, but he’s already seeing improvement in this year’s team, and he’s confident in Howard’s leadership.
“When I watched the interview when he got hired, he was so emotional about getting the job here,” Pomey said. “It felt good to me. You could see, he wears his emotions on his sleeve. I think he’ll be good.
“The key is going to be recruiting, obviously, so if he can recruit some good players – which he should be able to do, with his background — he looks good. The last two games — I think I’ve seen a lot of improvement, just from the last game to this one.
“I think the program shows a lot of promise.”