For years, Michigan basketball great Cazzie Russell’s number has been hanging by itself from the rafters at Crisler Arena. He was the only person in Michigan basketball history to ever have his jersey retired.
But Russell is no longer alone. Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines hung a new banner at Crisler Arena – that of former Michigan center and current Houston Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich. “Rudy T,” whose jersey No. 45 will forever hang next to Russell’s No. 33, played for Michigan from 1968 to 1970. The former center holds the Michigan career record for rebounds with 1,039, and is sixth on the all-time scoring list with 1,808 points.
Tomjanovich took a break from coaching Rockets players Steve Francis and rookie Yao Ming to travel to Ann Arbor and attend the ceremony.
“This is a big day for me – it is a highlight in my blessed basketball career,” said Tomjanovich before the game. “I just want to say that they didn’t have to do this for me. Michigan already made my dream come true in 1966 when they let me play here. I got a great basketball education here.”
Tomjanovich said that even with his busy schedule, he still tries to find the time to see what’s going on with the program right now, and he is excited about the recent resurgence.
“It’s tough with the travel, but I’m always checking up,” Tomjanovich said. “I’m really excited about what’s happening right now. I wasn’t on the committee to select Tommy Amaker, but he comes from tradition, he knows what he wants and he knows how to win.”
Tomjanovich attended Michigan’s practice Thursday, where players received an opportunity to hear words of wisdom from the coach who won two NBA titles with the Rockets in 1994 and 1995, and was at the helm of the 2000 gold-medal U.S. Olympic team.
“Rudy talked to the team yesterday,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “It was a treat for us to have him watch us workout. The players asked him a lot of questions about coaching Yao Ming.”
During his halftime speech, Tomjanovich spoke to the students and fans about his playing days and about treasuring the college experience.
“It is the four best years of your life,” Tomjanovich said.
After inscribing his name all over record books, Tomjanovich was drafted by the San Diego Rockets in 1970. The Rockets moved to Houston in 1971, where Michigan’s former star enjoyed a successful 11-year NBA career. He was a five-time NBA All-Star.
Tomjanovich retired as a player in 1981, and had his jersey retired the following year. But he was not done with the Rockets just yet. He became a Rockets assistant coach in 1983, and took over the starting job in 1992. He has coached in Houston for the past 11 years.
Tomjanovich towels that had his name, number and the years he played on it were distributed to most of the fans in attendance. “Rudy T” stayed after the game to sign autographs at center court.