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ARIZONA STATE'S FRIEDER IS NO SLICK BILLY, BUT WINS ANYWAY

He is not what you would call "slick." If John Calipari is college basketball's fashion statement, Bill Frieder is the coffee stain on its tie, the bag of old clothes to drop off at Goodwill.

Frieder has spoken to alumni groups in sweats and a T-shirt. He's sat down at the kitchen table with the parents of a recruit, wearing loafers with no socks. As a young man, he used to buy shirts at garage sales for 25 cents.

Arizona State's head basketball coach has never been big on appearances. It's enough trouble finding time to eat and sleep. Ties? He wears one grudgingly and with evident discomfort, as if it were a noose hanging around his neck.

So Wednesday afternoon, it was little surprise when Frieder arrived at the news conference for today's Southeast Regional in need of a haircut.

"Are you the person in charge for the NCAA?" Frieder asked Norm Reilly, the moderator.

Reilly nodded his head yes. Reporters chuckled, remembering Bobby Knight's recent attack on a moderator after an NCAA loss.

"Is there any rule in all of this, in all your hierarchy, about haircuts?" Frieder said. "If my barber's here and he has one of our credentials, can I get a haircut while I'm talking to these people?"

Again, Reilly nodded. "That's legal? All right," Frieder said. "If we win one more game, expect that in the next round. I need a haircut and I don't have time to go get one. I do that in my press conferences back home. It saves time. I can do two things at once."

He's famous for that. In fact, after 15 years of Division I coaching, after winning more than 300 games and taking his teams to 12 straight postseason tournaments, Frieder is best-remembered for the time when he was technically coaching in two places at once.

It was in 1989, when he was at Michigan. Frieder had his best team. But before the start of the NCAA Tournament, he signed as the coach at Arizona State.

Bo Schembechler, the Michigan athletic director at the time, removed him from the job, depriving Frieder of the chance to coach the Wolverines in the NCAAs. Steve Fisher, his assistant, took over and coached Michigan to the NCAA title.

Frieder set about rebuilding an Arizona State program that had suffered through seven straight non-winning seasons. He took the Sun Devils to the NIT in his first season. A year later, they made the NCAAs with a freshman-dominated team. The last three seasons, despite a rash of injuries, they made three straight NITs.

This year, with a healthy, veteran team, he has made it to the Sweet 16. His team meets mighty Kentucky tonight. Finally, Frieder gets to talk about a team he might coach in a Final Four, rather than the one he did not.

"I've had a great time at Arizona State," said Frieder, 53. "Because they hadn't won in such a long time, I've been on a six-year honeymoon. People have been so nice to me. They've hung with us and every year we've managed to do enough to please them."

For ASU fans, it's enough to put Arizona in its place now and then. Arizona won the instrastate rivalry 11 straight times before ASU finally broke through in 1991-92.

This year, Arizona State beat its hated rival twice. The Sun Devils also went deeper into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years. As far as the alumni are concerned, Frieder can wear sandals and a toga when he gives speeches.

But Frieder says he's not competing with Arizona coach Lute Olson, or anyone else in his profession. He didn't go to Tempe for his ego. He went because the pressure had become oppressive at Michigan, and because he and his wife, Janice, had dreamed of settling in a warm, western climate.

He's certainly the odd man in this regional. Line him up alongside North Carolina's Dean Smith, Kentucky's Rick Pitino and Georgetown's John Thompson and ask yourself who doesn't quite fit.

All three have a practiced air about them, an eminence. Smith and Thompson have won national championships. They talk about the social issues facing their sport. Pitino, as brilliant as he is humorless, coaches a school that has won several NCAA titles, in a state that worships the program.

Frieder is a lounge act by comparison. He's watched every Andy Griffith episode. His favorite restaurant is called Flakey Jake's. After his team won a second-round game last weekend in Memphis, he sat around in the press room, watching the late games with reporters.

If you think the guy is torn up inside about the way things ended at Michigan, think again.

"I never looked back," Frieder said. "I have no regrets. I didn't get to coach in that tournament, but if that's the worst thing that ever happens to me, I'll have had a great life. There's far more tragedies out there than that."

You learn to accept the good and the bad in this game. If ASU loses to Kentucky, Frieder goes home. If the Sun Devils win, he'll be back in the interview room Friday, while his barber administers the kindest cut of all.

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