TUCSON, Ariz. — He didn’t want much. Just one basket. That’s not a lot to ask from a college career, is it? One basket?
For this, he would work. For this, he would sacrifice. For this he would sit at the end of the bench, night after night, year after year. Without a scholarship. Without fame. He would travel to cities, dress in the uniform, go through warm-ups. Then take off the uniform, travel back home, go to class. Year after year. Night after night.
Sean Dobbins is the other side of the Fab Five. The far side. He was a good little high school basketball player who chose Michigan, like most kids, to get an education. He paid his own tuition. No one recruited him.
One day, early in his freshman year, Dobbins got an idea. He took his high school scrapbook to the basketball office and asked to see Steve Fisher.
“Coach, I’d like to play for your team,” he said. “These are some articles about me in high school.”
Fisher, who had just won a national championship, was amused. Big-time college basketball schools begin recruiting players when they are in eighth or ninth grade. They follow them — hound them, sometimes — until they sign. Only the best get taken.
Now here was a kid with a scrapbook.
“I’ll take a look,” Fisher said.
Finding room on the roster
Five weeks later — to everyone’s surprise — Dobbins was on the team. A walk-on. True, he still had to pay his own tuition. True, he was mostly there to help practice. But the kid with the scrapbook was in the club, dressing next to stars like Rumeal Robinson and Terry Mills.
He went through drills. He sweated every scrimmage. He dressed for the games, but almost never got in. To be honest, it was a big deal if he unzipped his sweat suit.
Sophomore year, he made a free throw.
That was the highlight of his season.
“I still dreamed about making a basket,” he says. “I figured I had two years left.”
Then, a setback. Michigan recruited five star freshmen — the Fab Five — and there was no room on the team for Dobbins. He spent his junior year practicing in the gym with other students. When the NCAA tournament came around, he drove to Atlanta, on his own. And he drove to Lexington. And he drove to Minneapolis. He sat behind the team, in the stands, longing to be part of it again, to wear the uniform, to maybe get a shot at that one basket he’d been dreaming about since freshman year.
Suddenly, he was a senior. The free throw just didn’t count
“The guys on the team were really pulling for me now,” he says. Given his old spot back — and the fact that because U-M was so talented, there should be plenty of “garbage time” — Dobbins was optimistic. He practiced hard, as usual. He dressed and undressed, as usual.
But the games slipped away. Pretty soon, it was the regular-season finale against Northwestern, and Dobbins still hadn’t scored a hoop. Fisher put him in, and he quickly took a shot — which clanked off the rim. The crowd moaned. In the final seconds he got the ball again, spun toward the basket and — AHNNNNNNN!
The buzzer sounded. The season was gone. And so, Dobbins figured, was his chance.
Which is what made Friday night so special. Friday night, first game of the NCAA tournament, the most serious basketball of the year. Michigan found itself ahead by 30 points late against Coastal Carolina. Fisher looked down the bench, saw the kid with the scrapbook, and said, “Get in there.”
This time, the whole U-M team, which has come to love Dobbins for his never-quit spirit, was ready. With four seconds left, and a free throw about to be shot at the opposite end, the Wolverines called Dobbins over and hid him in their midst. “Don’t move,” they whispered, “just wait.” The other team didn’t even see him.
So when the free throw was made, Rob Pelinka grabbed the ball, and heaved it downcourt to Dobbins, who stepped out of the camouflage and was suddenly all alone.
“All I could think of was ‘Catch it! Catch it!’ ” Dobbins said.
He caught it. He dribbled toward the basket. Three seconds. Two seconds. He laid it up . . .
. . . and in!
Score! The buzzer sounded. And the Wolverines mobbed Dobbins as if he’d just won a championship. “You shoulda dunked it!” laughed Chris Webber.
“DOBBS! DOBBS!” yelled Juwan Howard, grabbing him in a headlock and carrying him to the locker room.
We watch so much college basketball, we forget that they are kids out there. Kids with dreams. Some dream of winning it all. Some just dream of scoring two points.
“It was the greatest moment of my life,” said Dobbins. “If I never scored, the experience would still have been worthwhile. But now, it feels . . . great.”
Unless any NBA teams are interested . . .