On the eve of another end to March Madness, TGR wanted to do something special. So we caught up with former Michigan basketball player Ron Garber. Ron is a great guy and plays in my Temple of Aaron Sunday night basketball game in St. Paul. Besides throwing down two massive dunks last night, he had several blocked shots including one on my buddy Dan which was for all intensive purposes a volleyball spike. We caught up with the former Blue to hear his story and take on tonight's big finals match-up.
1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Golden Valley, MN and am a dual American/Israeli citizen. I was a late-grower and was cut from my high school basketball team (Hopkins, a powerhouse basketball school in Minnesota) as a senior, spent two years working out like mad and then accomplished my dream of walking on to the Michigan basketball team my junior and senior years.
2) What was your experience playing at Michigan like?
It was amazing and changed the trajectory of my life. More than anything else, it made me such a better basketball player. I used to play in a Minneapolis-area summer league that all of the local D-3 guys played in, and the summer before I walked on, I was one of the better bigs in the league, but fit in. I came back next summer after a year of playing against Michigan-level competition and really dominated the league. It was awesome.
It also gave me the opportunity to meet kids with totally different backgrounds than my own and kind of expand my horizons. I became really tight with the guys I played with, and those relationships continue to mean a lot to me.
3) Who was the best player you ever played with and against? What were those experiences like?
Best player I played with - Bernard Robinson, Jr. He was tenacious, strong and a total competitor. Long arms and crazy quick feet. Zig-zag drills against him were a nightmare.
Best player I played against - Bobby Jackson. In the summers we used to play pick-up games with him, and it was usually my group of friends against his. We couldn't take them because whenever we would get to 9 or whatever, he would just turn it on and take over, and he was unstoppable. I played with and against a lot of good players between my college team and the Howard Pulley pro-am league in St. Paul, but no one could flip that switch like he could.
4) Did you continue playing ball after your Michigan days?
I played professionally in Israel for a year after graduating and then came back to the US and played - and continue to play - in leagues, pick-up ball, whatever. I play less than I used to now that I'm getting a little older and am more into biking, yoga, etc. but I still play in a bunch of pick-up games and the Minneapolis lawyers league. An old teammate at Michigan just moved to the Twin Cities so I'm sure I'll play even more now.
5) How close do you follow the college game today? Thoughts on this year's Michigan team?
I follow the NBA much more closely than I follow the college game, just because the overall talent level has really dropped off since it became the norm to leave after one year. I like watching the best players, and the best players are in the League. I still love the Tournament though.
This year's Michigan team is incredible, especially now that Mitch McGary has found his confidence and rhythm. They are so athletic and so deep, and now have that threat inside as well. I love watching Glenn Robinson play - he's so athletic and manages to affect games even though they really don't run any offense for him - and Trey Burke is obviously amazing.
6) What was your Jewish life like growing up? And today?
Because of the Israeli influence in my family, growing up, my Jewish identity was always more about Israel than about spirituality or religion. I always went to Jewish summer camp though (Teko in the Twin Cities and then OSRUI in Wisconsin) and would visit family in Israel every year or two. I was also pretty active in my synagogue youth group. The best basketball game of my career was the championship game of my 'Jew-ball league' my senior year of high school, and it's the only game in my life that I remember my stat line from. 35 (on 9-11 shooting, 15-18 from the line) points, 18 rebounds, according to my dad's box score. We had lost in the championship my junior and sophomore year and winning was a big deal to us. Today my Judaism is still about Israel, and I am very active in organizations focused on the peace process. I've been a counselor at Seeds of Peace the past two summers and am the chair of the Minnesota chapter of J Street, two organizations that are both focused on making peace, albeit in different ways (J Street is focused on the politics, Seeds of Peace is focused on the people).
7) What's your favorite ice cream stop in Minnesota?
My favorite ice cream stop is my kitchen! I make some mean ice cream - passionfruit-habanero, apples and honey and maple-pecan (made with maple syrup tapped from trees on the Seeds of Peace camp) are probably my signature flavors. Look for my ice cream truck/shop (gonna be called either FrozenChozen's -- my nickname at Michigan -- or Matok, which means 'sweet' in Hebrew) in the next 10-15 years!
8) What are you up to these days?
Today I'm a corporate/M&A lawyer at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis and try to do what I can - mostly through J Street and Seeds of Peace - to affect the peace process from where I live in Minneapolis. I also hopelessly follow the Minnesota Timberwolves (next year is our year; I said that last year too).
9) Anything else you'd like to share?
Michigan 81 - Louisville 74.
Thank you to Ron for his time. I am sure tonight will be crazy for Blue fans everywhere. And yes, Trey Burke is unreal. Wonder if he is Jewish? Doubtful.
And Let Us Say...Amen.
- Jeremy Fine