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ON THE PROWL : Possessed by the Game, Bill Frieder Has Had Success; Others Have Doubts

March 15, 1988|ROBYN NORWOOD | Times Staff Writer

There are apparently only a few things that can hold Frieder's interest for more than about 20 minutes. Basketball is one. So is blackjack. Although reports differ as to whether he has given up his penchant for the game, Frieder readily admits that he has been banned from several Las Vegas casinos for being a card counter.

The mind for numbers that has helped him play the stock market and the real estate market with great success over the years and that can call up the halftime score of many a long-past game gave him great success at blackjack. In the days when he was a poorly paid high school and assistant coach, Frieder said he would make twice-yearly trips to Las Vegas to pick up a quick couple of thousand. No more, he says.

"I can make that kind of money with one speech now," he said. "It doesn't make business sense to go."

Numbers have been his thing since he was small, Frieder said.

"If it's a number, and it's important, I can remember it."

As a boy in Saginaw, he worked in his father's produce business.

"I grew up in the fruit market, the wholesale and retail business, dealing with numbers every day. So many quarts to sell, so many pecks in a bushel. I was always really good with numbers, really good."

The business venture that currently is holding Frieder's interest is a book he is writing with Jeff Mortimer, a reporter with the Ann Arbor News.

The working title: "Basket Case." An earlier version: "The Way to Fried-um."

Frieder received national attention earlier this season when he appeared to be shoving either a television camera or the cameraman as he went into the locker room at halftime of the Michigan-Iowa game, angry over an official's call. He defends himself briefly, but then throws up his hands.

"The more controversy, the better my book will sell."

That incident is one that prompted Dick Vitale, the ESPN commentator, to say that "Frieder makes Bobby Knight look like Mother Teresa." It is a good line, but one that Vitale has used with other coaches' names in the blank.

Frieder takes offense at being compared to Knight.

"I'd commit suicide before I got that bad," he said.

It is not lost on Frieder that he will be following in the steps of Knight, his Big Ten rival, when the book is published.

Knight, of course, was the subject of the 1986 best seller, "A Season on the Brink," by John Feinstein of the Washington Post.

Included in that book was an account of the start of a feud between Frieder and Knight, whom Frieder almost unfailingly calls "the irascible Bobby Knight."

The gist of the story is that Frieder approached Knight a number of years ago before a Michigan-Indiana game and asked him to speak to a reporter who Frieder thought was being unfair. Knight, long an admirer of Orr and--at the time--a friend of Frieder's, agreed.

Then, during the game, Frieder yelled at the officials to give Knight a technical foul. Knight thought that unconscionably disloyal after having granted the favor. The two hardly have spoken since.

"He told his side, now I get to tell my side," Frieder said.

What is Frieder's side? He's not saying.

Frieder, not talking?

"I'm promoting my book."

A few wins in the NCAA tournament would probably help.

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