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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP GAME : A Lighter Shade of Blue : Montross' Family Has a Michigan Tradition, but North Carolina Hopes


NEW ORLEANS — During his first recruiting season as Michigan coach, Steve Fisher was confident about landing a young center from Lawrence North High in Indianapolis.

"Everyone said he was yours to lose," Fisher recalled Sunday.

Although Eric Montross played in the back yard of Coach Bob Knight, Wolverine boosters had reason to believe the 7-foot high school All-American would attend Michigan.

His father, Scott, was a non-letter-winning member of great Wolverine teams from 1965-69. And Montross' grandfather, John Townsend, was a Michigan All-American in 1937-38 who was known as the "Houdini of the Hardwood."

Montross went South.

He shunned family tradition and hometown Hoosiermania to attend North Carolina, which assembled a great freshman class in 1989.

Fisher, of course, recovered the next year by attracting the five players who will start for him at 6:22 PDT tonight at the Superdome when Michigan faces North Carolina and Montross for the national championship.

"We indeed lost him, but we got his sister," Fisher said.

The Michigan legacy runs deep in the Montross household. But Scott and Janice Montross have become Tar Heel fans in the past three years.

Will their loyalty be split to night?

"It's no contest," Montross said of his parents' support for him.

Said Christine Montross, a sophomore at Michigan: "I always tell my friends that I want to see that ring on my brother's hand more than on the Michigan players'."

Christine, who is studying French and environmental policy, was a bit apprehensive about a potential late-season meeting between the schools.

"But now that it is here, I'm a Tar Heel all the way," she said.

Montross' decision to leave the Midwest caused quite a stir in Indiana and Michigan three years ago. Although Montross was mature enough to realize that one player would not bring any team a national championship, Big Ten fans felt spurned.

Hoosier boosters were so distraught they sent nasty letters to Scott Montross, an Indianapolis attorney.

"There were things that were disheartening to my family because we had made a very good decision for me," Montross said.

"It offended them more than anything."

But he is so comfortable with his choice, Montross does not hide his North Carolina loyalty when he returns home. His Indiana license plate has a Tar Heel logo on it.

"I guess when I drive home I have to make sure it is bolted down," he said.

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