Michigan awaits NCAA’s ruling after auto accident

by Todd Zolecki

Speculation still surrounds last Saturday’s car accident involving five Michigan men’s basketball players and one recruit.
Michigan coach Steve Fisher tried to answer some of the questions about the incident in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
The Gophers play the Wolverines on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The players and the recruit were reportedly returning to campus from a party in Detroit when their automobile went off the road and rolled over. No one was seriously injured, but freshman Robert Traylor broke his arm and is out for the remainder of the season.
The accident occurred around 4:50 a.m., and involved Traylor, Louis Bullock, Ron Oliver, Willie Mitchell and Maurice Taylor. Mateen Cleaves, a recruit from Flint, Mich., was also in the car.
Taylor was driving the car at the time of the crash.
Players may have violated an NCAA rule by bringing Cleaves to the party. The rule states recruits may not be taken outside a 30-mile radius from campus while they are on an official school visit.
“It appears a violation has happened, but we won’t do anything until we get the actual mileage — we’re clocking that right now,” Craig Keilitz, Michigan’s athletic compliance coordinator, said Monday.
In Wednesday’s statement, Fisher said his players were aware of the 30-mile radius stipulation, but they believed they were within the radius when they went to Detroit.
“It’s more than 30 miles,” said Gophers assistant coach Milt Barnes, who is from the Detroit area. “Last I measured it was 40 miles.”
Fisher said the incident will be reported to the NCAA as if the violation did occur, and he will wait for its assessment and judgment.
If the players did break the rule, Cleaves may be ruled ineligible.
According to police reports, alcohol or drugs were not a factor in the accident. Fisher said the statements of players, law enforcement officials and hospital emergency room personnel all show alcohol and drugs were not a factor “prior to or during” the accident.
Taylor reportedly fell asleep while driving a 1996 Ford Explorer Limited Edition. The vehicle is priced at more than $36,000 and is reportedly leased by his grandmother Ellen Lloyd.
“On the question of who owns the vehicle driven by Maurice Taylor, we must note that, as a matter of department policy, we annually register vehicles driven by student-athletes,” Fisher said. “The vehicle driven by Maurice Taylor was reported accordingly.”
Fisher seems to have reprimanded his players for their “poor judgment by being out at that hour of the morning” but made no mention of possible suspension.
“I have taken actions that will include placing the student-athletes involved on probation, and have established significant restrictions that will last at least until the end of the school year,” Fisher said.
He did not elaborate on those restrictions. Except for Traylor, the other four Michigan players involved in the incident were expected to play in Thursday night’s game at Penn State.
The Wolverines haven’t shown any signs of letting down their play despite the loss of Traylor. They defeated Indiana on Saturday before falling to No. 14 Penn State 67-57 on Thursday.
“They showed that they aren’t going to miss Robert Traylor that much,” Barnes said. “They made the adjustment they had to make and came out and did the job against Indiana.
“They’ve got six or seven high school All-Americans. They still have good, quality talent on that team.”
Minnesota is riding a four-game Big Ten winning streak, which is the longest in Coach Clem Haskins’ 10 seasons. The Gophers believe they need to win three of their remaining five games to make a strong bid for the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota hasn’t won at Michigan since 1982 — the year of its last Big Ten championship — and is coming off a sloppy win against Ohio State on Wednesday night.
Players believe they need to come out with more emotion if they expect to earn their first victory at Crisler Arena in 14 years.
“We’ve got to win a couple on the road,” said Gophers freshman Courtney James. “Michigan will be a good chance for us. One of their best players is out for the season. So we have to come out, play hard and try to get their big men in foul trouble.”
— This story contains information from The Associated Press.