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Wolverines Basketball News

Accident's effects still felt six years later

Roberson: It changed the athletic department

Friday, March 22, 2002

By JIM CNOCKAERT
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER

When five of his players and a top recruit walked away from an early morning rollover accident on a freeway near Ann Arbor a little more than six years ago, then-University of Michigan basketball coach Steve Fisher breathed a sigh of relief.

"I'm extremely grateful we didn't have a catastrophe or a tragedy. Because it could have been," Fisher said just hours after Maurice Taylor crashed his Ford Explorer along M-14.

Injuries sustained in the Feb. 17, 1996 rollover - then-freshman Robert Traylor suffered a broken right arm that ended his season, and several other players were shaken up - healed long ago. But the Michigan basketball program - the entire athletic department, for that matter - still feels the ill-effects brought about by the accident.

"There is no question it changed the face of the athletic department," said Joe Roberson, U-M athletic director from 1994-97.

Before the rollover, few people outside the U-M basketball program had heard of Ed Martin. Within a year, his name would become a familiar one throughout the state. Investigations sparked by the accident would eventually link Martin to Michigan players more than a decade earlier and to head coaches other than Fisher.

The night of the rollover, Taylor, Traylor, Louis Bullock, Willie Mitchell and Ron Oliver took Mateen Cleaves, then a senior at Flint Northern High School on his official recruiting visit to Michigan, to a party at a Detroit hotel. The crash occurred early the next morning as the group returned to Ann Arbor.

The accident initially raised questions about why players were allowed out so late and what they had been doing in Detroit. Michigan later admitted to what the NCAA terms a secondary violation because Cleaves had been transported more than 30 miles from campus during his recruiting visit.

The accident prompted the NCAA to ask Michigan for financial records detailing the leasing arrangements for Taylor's vehicle, and school officials checked vehicles driven by other Michigan basketball players. Eventually, Michigan established a vehicle registration program for all of its athletes.

A joint inquiry of the accident conducted by Michigan and Big Ten officials, released in March 1997, shed light on the relationship between Martin and the basketball program.

The investigation's report stated Martin had been involved in two minor infractions: He'd been present at a recruit's home during a visit by Fisher; and, he'd given a U-M player a birthday cake. The investigation also revealed that Fisher had headed off two potential major violations by Martin - a deposit on a player's apartment and airline tickets for a player's family.

The night of the accident, according to the inquiry, the U-M players involved said they first stopped at a player's house before attending a party in a room at Detroit's Westin Hotel. Players' accounts of the party varied, but newspapers subsequently reported that drugs, alcohol and strippers were present.

Later published reports revealed the players actually stopped that night at Martin's house - not at a player's house - so that Martin could meet Cleaves. Michigan officials tried to determine whether Martin helped to rent the hotel room or provided the players with money, but Martin did not cooperate with investigators.

It quickly became clear that Fisher knew Martin well. According to the joint Michigan/Big Ten report, Martin received free tickets or the opportunity to buy tickets 36 times between the 1991-92 and the 1993-94 seasons. Records showed he received a total of 97 tickets. Also, U-M phone records showed that Fisher and his assistants made 39 calls to Martin's Detroit home.

A second investigation released in October 1997 conducted by the law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King found insufficient evidence to corroborate allegations of major NCAA rules violations and could not conclude that Martin acted as a representative for the university.

The matter seemed concluded until April 1999, when agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service raided Martin's home, his son Carlton's home, 10 other residences and an office as part of an investigation into the numbers-running operation Martin allegedly ran inside Ford Motor Co. plants.

The agents seized guns, suspected gambling ledgers, gambling and drug paraphernalia and more than $150,000 in cash. The agents also seized items, including a Western Union moneygram transaction between Martin and Traylor, that led them to believe Martin gave Michigan players large cash payments and gifts.

Fisher, who was fired after the October 1997 report was released, wasn't the only college basketball coach linked to Martin. U-M investigations and newspaper reports also tied the Detroit booster to former Fisher assistant Perry Watson, former U-M head coach Bill Frieder and former University of Iowa coach George Raveling.

There was some suspicion that Watson brought Martin to U-M when he joined Fisher's staff in 1991 as an assistant, but Watson told U-M and Big Ten investigators that he warned Fisher to stay away from Martin.

Watson said he first met Martin in 1981, when Martin began to hang around Watson's Detroit Southwestern High School basketball program. Watson said he disassociated Martin from his high school program in 1989, in great part because he was troubled that Martin continually gave gifts to premier players.

Frieder, who coached at U-M from 1980-89 before leaving for Arizona State, has said little about Martin. But one of Frieder's former Michigan players, Leslie Rockymore, said Martin frequently was around the school's basketball program in the 1980s. And, according to a 1997 newspaper report, Martin tried to give cash and gifts to a Frieder recruit, Romulus High School star Terry Mills.

Martin also received complementary tickets to Iowa games while Raveling was head coach, according to documents obtained by The Ann Arbor News.

Iowa heavily recruited high school players from the Detroit area during Raveling's tenure. In an interview with an assistant Big Ten commissioner, Raveling acknowledged knowing Martin and said that "(Martin) was a person you did not want to alienate."

© 2002 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission
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