Rice, Russell, Dietz highlight Crisler Center rededication weekend

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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 17, 2013

The lone standing ovation during Sunday’s game wasn’t for any of Glenn Robinson III’s dunks or for a Nik Stauskas 3-pointer — it came during a timeout with 11:25 left in the first half.

Former Michigan basketball player Glen Rice was honored by ESPN as one of the 75 best players in NCAA Tournament history, and the Crisler Center decibel level rose exponentially as Rice approached center court to receive a commemorative plaque for his legacy as a Wolverine.

In addition to Sunday’s “Stripe Out” for the Michigan men’s basketball game against Penn State and the celebration of the 1989 NCAA Championship squad, the Michigan Athletic Department hosted a series of events for the Crisler Center rededication weekend. Former players came back to see the new arena and to reunite with teammates in celebration of the program’s rich basketball history.

Friday night’s “Return to Crisler” event showcased Rice, Cazzie Russell and Diane Dietz in a panel emceed by football great Desmond Howard, and each former player discussed his or her time at Michigan and shared thoughts on the new additions to the arena.

“It was time to keep up with modern technology and gymnasiums,” Russell said. “It looks great, we got a tour (and) it was unbelievable. A lot of thought went into what they’re doing. This is probably something they can use for a number of events, and it wasn’t just put together as just a basketball arena — it was put together with a lot of things in mind.”

Russell was not only impressed with the arena, but as he rode the escalator up to the main entrance of Crisler, he was blown away by the mural he approached. At the top is an iconic photo of Russell standing in the middle of the future home of Crisler Arena — the photo that helped make Crisler known as “The House that Cazzie Built.” The basketball team at the time played at Yost Fieldhouse and Russell never got to play at Crisler Arena, as construction wasn’t completed until 1967 when Russell had left.

“Once I saw that, my mind raced back to the time I actually took that picture, standing in the middle of Crisler Arena,” Russell said. “There’s 1,000 flashbacks. (It was a) very humbling experience. (I’m) very grateful I got to play at this institution.”

At halftime of Saturday afternoon’s women’s basketball game, the first women’s varsity basketball team was recognized alongside Dietz and many other former players. Dietz is the all-time leading scorer in program history and gave a pregame talk to the women’s squad before it took on Michigan State.

The men’s basketball team also got the opportunity to meet and talk with Rice and Russell in coach John Beilein’s effort to help his players understand Michigan tradition.

“We talked a lot, we showed the video of ‘The House that Cazzie Built,’ ” Beilein said. “We’re always talking about the tradition at Michigan. ... (Our players are) just starting to grasp this tradition, whether its Cazzie or Campy (Russell) or Phil Hubbard or Rudy (Tomjanovich) — all the great players that have been here. Jalen (Rose), Juwan Howard wanted to be here — those guys really love Michigan, and it meant a lot to have them here today.”

Both Russell and Rice have continued to follow the program after they left. Rice said he sets an alarm on his television so he knows when Michigan is playing and calls his support for the team “an unconditional love,” and Russell is pleased to see the program playing at a championship level again.

Though Michigan has dissociated itself with the Fab Five, this weekend was an effort to embrace other former teams to create unity in the program. Rice and Russell were elated to return to Ann Arbor for this weekend’s events, and Rice appreciates the effort Michigan is putting into reuniting former players.

“As a former player, you want to come back and do whatever you can to support your program,” Rice said. “In the past, that reach hasn’t been there. One thing Beilein is stressing to all of us is we need to bring it back to where it used to be, and he can’t do it by himself. He needs all of us as a collective group, and now it’s up to us to give our time and do the right thing.”