Roy Tarpley could have been one of the greatest players in Michigan basketball history and beyond.
Instead, he became a casualty of promise unfulfilled.
According to multiple reports, the former Michigan basketball captain and Detroit Cooley High player died at an Arlington, Texas, hospital today at age 50.
“He was a great player in college and could have been a great player in the NBA had it not been for the drugs,” his college coach at U-M, Bill Frieder, told the Free Press tonight.
The Dallas Morning News reported the story this evening.
By the end of his life, Tarpley was known more for his failed drug tests and numerous NBA suspensions after being drafted by the Dallas Mavericks seventh overall in 1986 but only playing two full seasons, the second where he was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
But many suspensions for drunk driving and alcohol derailed that potential. He was building an impressive career, averaging 13.5 points and 11.8 rebounds his second year in the league and by his fourth season, he was at 16.8 points per game and 13.1 rebounds.
But he was suspended for his prime years, 27-29 after multiple drunk driving arrests and after making a comeback in 1994-95 and playing well (12.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in 55 games) he was permanently banned from the league for violating his aftercare program.
“I talked to Jerry Colangelo about him because I was very concerned about him in the league and just said this is how powerful drugs are,” Frieder recalled. “You’ve got $20 million in one hand and drugs in the other and you make the wrong choice…. It was hard to get through to him.”
He played in overseas and in minor leagues until 2006.
But his Michigan years, when he averaged 16 points per game and 9.3 rebounds and an impressive 2.5 blocks per game for his final three seasons when he was a starter, showed the immense possibilities.
He was almost an afterthought when he came to Michigan.
“After a bad season in ’82, he was the gamble, he only averaged six points and two rebounds his junior year, I saw him in the summertime and he had long legs and long arms and we needed to take six kids that year so I just went after him hard and he ended up being the best player on the club,” Frieder said. “He really didn’t know the game that well and didn’t play that much as a young kid and just got better and better. The talent was there. He kept growing and getting bigger. He came and was 6-9 1/2 and he left and was 7-foot.”
A key player on Michigan’s back to back Big Ten title teams in 1984-85 and ’85-86, he was a third team All-America in 1985 and 1986, the Big Ten player of the year in 1985 and captain in the 1985-86 season with Butch Wade.
“I remember what a great player he became,” Frieder said. “Very, very sad. Just enormous talent. And he loved basketball. That’s what the shame of it all is.”