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Perilous Ride for Michigan Recruit

February 19, 1996

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ Frances Cleaves is the mother of six. One of her sons, Mateen, plays basketball about as well as any high school kid in the country.

Mateen Cleaves is being recruited by many major colleges, and over the weekend he could easily have been killed.

``He was in God’s hands,″ Frances Cleaves said Sunday.

After helping Flint Northern defeat Clarkston on Friday night, Mateen Cleaves came to Ann Arbor. This was to be his official visit to the University of Michigan.

He hooked up with five Michigan players: Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor, Louis Bullock, Willie Mitchell and Ron Oliver. They all jumped into Taylor’s 1996 Ford Explorer and headed for Detroit. It was party time.

On the way back, however, Taylor either fell asleep or hit a patch of ice. Maybe both. The vehicle carrying the six young men went off the freeway and rolled over and over. The time was 4:50 a.m.

``I guess I was tired because it was late,″ said Taylor, who scored 13 points in Michigan’s 80-75 win over Indiana on Sunday. ``I hit a patch of ice.″

They were lucky. The worst injury was Traylor’s broken right arm. The 320-pound freshman is out for the rest of the season.

``I think we were all more scared after we got out and looked at the car,″ Taylor said. ``We said, `How did we walk out of there.′ I think everyone of us now knows how fragile life is. In a split second, you can be gone.″

By Saturday afternoon, talk radio shows were being flooded with calls. Some callers were upset the players were out so late. Others were upset with Michigan coach Steve Fisher. He often is accused of being too lax with his players.

Michigan players have no curfew. Fisher trusts them to get enough sleep.

``We have told all of them to use good judgment and make good decisions,″ Fisher said. ``At times we’ve told them to be in by 11 and I’ll call to make sure, so don’t have your recorder pick up. Two days ago, we talked about the importance of the night before the night before.″

Fisher didn’t punish the players. All except Traylor played in the Indiana game.

``There was no alcohol involved, so this isn’t a departmental policy,″ Michigan athletic director Joe Roberson said. ``It’s whatever Steve wants to do, and I’ll support him on that. You don’t suspend kids for getting into an accident.″

Frances Cleaves says she doesn’t question Fisher’s role in the matter.

``I have six kids,″ she said. ``This isn’t the first time I’ve had an 18-year-old stay out a little longer than he should have. I don’t hold the coach responsible at all.

``Coach Fisher is a fine man. I am very impressed with him. I would have no problem about sending Mateen here to play for him.″

This isn’t the first time Michigan basketball players have been in the news for off-court incidents.

In February 1994, during the Fab Five era, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Chris Fields were suspended for one game because of their involvement in a shoplifting incident. In March 1993, Jalen Rose was ticketed for loitering in a Detroit drug house; he was not suspended.

``It was a learning experience,″ Bullock said. ``We’re getting a bad rap. We weren’t doing anything wrong. It was just one of those unfortunate things.″

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