particular episode in Leon Jones” season-long series was put on hold, but not taken off the air for good.

Michigan”s version of an iron man had never missed a game in his previous three years as a Wolverine, spanning 89 games. But last night, the senior tri-captain was in street clothes and had a protective cast over his left hand. This is the unfortunate reality for Jones the next three weeks due to a torn capsule in his left thumb. Jones dislocated the thumb in practice on Sunday and will have to wear the cast for at least two weeks.

“It”s a huge loss,” said Bernard Robinson, who replaced Jones in the starting lineup. “He”s such a multi-dimensional player that you hate to lose a guy like that.”

Dr. Dean Lewis of the University hospital performed surgery to repair the damage in Jones” thumb yesterday afternoon, but Jones will likely sit for the next two weeks before starting rehab in an attempt to crack the Michigan lineup once again.

While he didn”t play, a seemingly anxious Jones remained active on the bench, rising to his feet, waving a towel and harping on his teammates on both ends of the floor. Nor did the injury affect the theater buff”s ability to create some clips on his video camera in his quest to direct a movie of the Wolverines” season.

“He”s one of the biggest emotional leaders on this team,” said fellow tri-captain Chris Young, who now holds the team”s active streak for consecutive games played with 90. “His presence will definitely be missed, but he can make up for it in other ways.”

After three seasons of relative inconsistency, Jones seemed to have finally felt comfortable and confident in his role. Grabbing coach Tommy Amaker”s attention for his work ethic and leadership on the floor, Jones beat out the slashing Robinson at the small forward spot in the past three games, including two exhibitions. Robinson started in his place and added 11 points and committed only one turnover.

“He played unbelievable,” Young said. “He was all over the passing lanes, shutting down their top guys and was more careful with the ball.”

New kids on the block: All five members of Amaker”s top-10 recruiting class for 2002 have officially sent their national letters of intent during the early signing period: Lanky swingman Lester Abram, highly touted point guard Daniel Horton, along with 6-foot-9 power forward Graham Brown and big men 6-foot-11 Chris Hunter and 6-foot-10 Amadou Ba. Amaker said all recruits have cleared academically except Ba, who is still in the process of taking his first test.

“All five players are versatile with outstanding athletic ability and commitment to academics,” said Amaker, who felt that he addressed some of Michigan”s major needs at point guard and in the post.

Higher learning: Freshman guard Marcus Bennett didn”t play for the second straight game, but this time it was due to academic concerns. Amaker said that is an “academic situation” and that he wouldn”t play until “it was resolved.” Bennett was unavailable for comment.

Notes: Sophomore center Josh Moore continued his foul problems, as he fouled out in just 10 minutes Starting point guard Mike Gotfredson has only attempted one shot in 49 minutes the season”s two games Over 40 Fairfield fans who live in Michigan area attended last night”s game and added some flashes of red in the student bleachers Fairfield coach Tim O”Toole was Amaker”s assistant at Seton Hall and served as a fellow assistant coach at Duke with Amaker.

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