Basketball Profiles - 2

Reference: Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, the American Dream, Mitch Albom (1993)
The Fab Five - I

Bill Frieder

Steve Fisher

Chris Webber

Juwan Howard

Jimmy King

Jalen Rose

Ray Jackson

Steve Fisher had fallen into a national championship at Michigan in 1989.
  • He took over the Wolverines just in time for the NCAA Tournament when Bill Frieder left for Arizona State.
  • All his team did was win six straight to surprise the world.

That's a hard feat to top.

  • The Wolverines had a fine season in 1989-90, going 23-8 to earn a #3 seed in March Madness but lost to Loyola Marymount 149-115 in the second round.
  • The following year, with all the starters from the '89 titlists gone, Michi­gan slumped to 14-14 and ended the season with a first-round loss in the NIT.
  • All the good will Fisher engendered after the '89 season dissipated. We made a mistake, whispered Michigan fans. He can't recruit like Frieder. Big Blue Nation was particularly upset that he lost out on Michigan's most-desired high school recruit, 7' Eric Montross, whose father and grandfather went to Michigan. Eric chose North Carolina.

With a weak team returning for 1991-92, Fisher needed a major recruiting class to keep his job. The Michigan staff aimed high, targeting four players on the national Top Fifty list as ranked by Bob Gibbons in his All Star Sports newsletter.

  • 1. Chris Webber, C/F, 6-9, Detroit MI
    Scored 64 points and had 15 dunks in an 8th grade game ... led Country Day to three state championships ... as a senior, averaged 28 points and 13 rebounds a game ... Michigan's Mr. Basketball and consensus National High School Player of the Year.
  • 4. Juwan Howard, C/F, 6-9, Chicago IL
    "... the #1 prospect in the Windy City ... most impressive senior player at last summer's prestigious Nike/ABCD Basketball Camp in Princeton, N.J. ... excellent inside-outside scorer ... soft, accurate shooting touch with true three-point range ... very mobile ..."
  • 10. Jimmy King, 2G, 6-4, 185, Plano TX
    "... the #1 prospect in the Lone Star State ... nation's premier off-guard prospect ... most outstanding senior backcourt player at the Nike/Las Vegas Invitational Tournament ... literally did it all, hitting clutch three-pointers, rebounding, passing, stealing the ball ..."
  • 12. Jalen Rose, G/F, 6-7, 190, Detroit MI
    "We rate this 'lithe lefty' among the nation's premier swing men and three-point shooters. ... very adept at squaring up quickly, and firing three-point shots off his dribble ... very proficient in all the fundamentals ... outstanding ball handler and passer ..."

Michigan would have been happy to get any two of these players.

  • Instead they got all four. They also got Ray Jackson, another highly­rated (#84) recruit from Austin TX.
  • The group was quickly dubbed "The Fab Five" and called the greatest one-year collection of recruits in basketball history.
  • Clem Haskins, the Minnesota coach, said, Michigan's freshman class alone has more good athletes than any team in the Big Ten. They're not better players, yet, because they're freshmen. But they're better athletes.
  • Howard signed first, starting the dominoes falling. King was next. Ju­wan made the first move, he said. When he signed, I said to myself, "Let's do this." This is pretty good! However, his hyperorganized mother ap­proved Michigan over Kansas because a report in U.S. News & World Report gave UM higher academic marks than KU.
  • Like King, Jackson was looking to go out of state to showcase his skills in a better basketball environment. UM assistant Mike Boyd had re­cruited both of them before he left in September 1990 to become head coach at Cleveland State. He called the two Texans to tell that he still believed Michigan was their best choice.

Both Webber and Rose deferred their decisions to the spring.

  • Fisher needed to get both or face charges that he had lost control of the state.
  • Rose, the son of former Providence and Detroit Piston star Jimmy Walker, led Detroit's Southwestern High in scoring, rebounding, as­sists, and blocked shots his senior season.
  • Yet as good as Rose was, Webber was better. He was a once-in-a­decade talent along the lines of a Spencer Haywood or Magic Johnson, two other Michigan products.
  • Ever since they were 13-year-olds growing up on Detroit's west side, Webber and Rose had talked about going to college together. Each knew Howard and King from off-season camps, tournaments, and All-Star games.
  • Rose listed Syracuse and UNLV as his top two choices, but both schools became involved in NCAA investigations.
  • Webber, with four younger siblings, decided he wanted to stick close to home. He also liked Fisher's positive style, encouraging his players even during the 14-15 season.
  • Steve sealed the deal by filling an open assistant's position with Perry Watson, Rose's coach at Southwestern and Webber's onetime summer league coach.
    An assistant at another school questioned the timing of Watson's hi­ring. The rules only allow us to see a kid play four times. I felt that Perry was more or less hired in October, only it wasn't released until the spring, and that allowed him to see Chris as many times as he wanted. Officially, was he on the staff? No. But if you polled a million people in Michigan, most would say he was.
  • Rose and Webber committed to Michigan on the same day, March 23, the day each led his school to a state championship. Chris had some fun with his announcement. Next year, I'll be a Michigan Wolverine - if I make the team.
    Tom Izzo, the chief recruiter for Michigan State's head coach, Jed Heathcote, hoped to sign either Rose or Webber. After Rose commit­ted, Tom still sat alone on the floor in his three-bedroom house all day hoping against hope that Chris would become a Spartan. When a re­porter called to say, He picked Michigan, Tom, Izzo thanked him, hung up the phone, and cried.
Continue below...
The Fab Five - II
The five fabulous freshmen of Michigan's 1991 recruiting class immediately changed the culture of the basketball program.
  • Traditionally, freshmen cagers were grunts, new guys that had to wait their turn. They fetched balls, handed out water, carried bags, and figuratively sat at the feet of the upperclassmen with their mouths shut to learn as much as they could.
  • But even before fall practice began, the Fab Five established a different ethic in the first pick up game. Freshmen against upperclassmen - and they won easily again and again, trash talking the whole way.
  • The new kids on the block even had an impact on the uniform before the school year began. Head coach Steve Fisher's chief recruiter Brian Dutcher, always looking for ways to relate to players, told the equipment manager in the spring to order uniform shorts with an extra four inches.
  • When UM media day arrived to signal the start of official practice, the photographers and reporters hovered around the five freshmen. The four seniors, four juniors, and three sophomores on the roster wandered to the far end of the gym and shot baskets by themselves.
  • The newcomers even had the audacity to blare their music - mostly rap - on the locker room stereo system.
  • All this was a learning adventure not only for the upperclassmen but also for the head coach. But Fisher decided, for better or worse, to let the Fab Five be themselves, although he constantly told them to pull their shorts up during practice.
  • Practices became brutal. The upperclassmen gave no quarter. Arguments and even small fights broke out.
  • Jalen Rose admitted, I never had a white teammate before I got here. And I never had any white friends.

The season started with four cupcakes, to use Dick Vitale's term for easy foes.

  • UM played their first two games away, starting at the University of Detroit-Mercy and. 9,989 curious fans turned out for the opener. Fisher started three freshmen, Chris Webber at F, Jalen Rose at G - both from Detroit - and Juwan Howard at C. That last move was a surprise, since the Chicago rookie replaced junior Eric Riley despite the latter's leading the conference in blocked shots and rebounds the previous season. But when a nervous Howard committed three turnovers in the first three minutes, Fisher rushed in the veteran. The Wolverines played sloppily - 34 turnovers - but still prevailed 100-74. A TV reporter called it "high school basketball at the collegiate level."
  • Next came a trip to play Cleveland State, coached by former UM assistant Mike Boyd who, perhaps more than anyone, was responsible for the Fab Five. Committing "only" 27 turnovers, the Wolverines romped 80-61.
  • Chicago State and Eastern Michigan came to Crisler Arena and fell by a combined score of 203-139.

The schedule took a decided turn when the #1-ranked Duke Blue Devils came to Crisler Arena in a nationally televised game Saturday, December 14.

  • Mike Krzyzewski's team had won the NCAA Tournament overthe previous spring.
  • Chris Webber had seriously considered signing with Duke, in part because he was friends with Blue Devil star Grant Hill from AAU basketball.
  • But the other four Fabs felt contempt toward Duke, especially their white stars, C Christian Laettner and PG Bobby Hurley. The UM frosh had identified with the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, the free-wheeling team that had clobbered the Blue Devils by 30 points in the 1990 finals before losing to them 79-77 in the semifinals the next year.
  • The Duke players were aware of the hype surrounding the Fab Five but considered it premature and undeserved. Coach K recalled: It was like the anti-culture from what our culture was. We looked at it as two different worlds ... and I think the public looked at it that way, too. Whether they liked them or liked us, it was a huge game.

Michigan students began lining up for tickets in the cold and sleet as early as 5 AM on game day.

  • During the chippy, verbal first half, Duke led by as many as 17 before the home team reduced the margin to 43-33 at the break.
  • UM cut down on turnovers the second half and finally took the lead on Webber's 3-pointer that had Fisher saying, "No ... yes!" With less than a minute to play, UM still held on 76-73. But Webber fouled Hurley on a three-point shot, and Bobby swished all three FTs to send the game into OT.
  • Chris fouled out in OT with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Laettner also went to the bench with 24 points and 8 rebounds.
  • The Blue Devils took the lead and made all 10 of their FTs in the extra period to prevail 88-85.
  • Hurley afterward: We knew they were good. We just didn't know they were that good already. Hill added: They're the best team we've faced in two years. They're better than Vegas.

Michigan ripped off four more wins before conference play, including victories over BYU (86-83) and Virginia Tech (63-51) in the Red Lobster Classic in Orlando. That set the stage for the start of conference play. The #11 Wolverines started at Iowa January 9.

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Brian Dutcher

Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose in their baggy shorts

Grant Hill

Christian Laettner

Bobby Hurley

Chris Webber

Jalen Rose

Juwan Howard

Michael Talley

James Voskuil

The Fab Five - III
As the calendar turned over to 1992, ESPN's Dick Vitale assessed preconference play across college basketball.
  • In his usual low key way (?), he singled out Michigan's freshman class. Steve Fisher says, "Don't call them the Fabulous Five! But Steve, they are Fantastic!
  • Chris Webber gets an A-plus for the preconference schedule. He's the best freshman in the country! Jalen Rose gets an A-plus! Jimmy King gets an A! Juwan Howard gets an A-minus! Ray Jackson, superathlete, an A-minus!

ESPN assigned Vitale to cover Michigan's first conference game at Iowa.

  • Before the game, Dick told Fisher, Don't look so nervous, Steve! You got more talent than anybody.
  • But Fisher had yet to win a conference title as a head coach. He had taken over the Wolverines in time for March Madness in 1989 and won an NCAA Championship.
  • With Maize and Blue nation expecting nothing less than another national championship, Fisher's team couldn't stub its collective toe by not at least winning the Big Ten.

But plans for a smooth opening to league play were derailed immediately.

  • A few days before the trip to Iowa City, where UM hadn't won in three years, Jalen Rose, the team's leading scorer and cocky floor general, showed up 20 minutes late for a team meeting. I overslept, he explained.
  • Forced to take action, Steve announced that Jalen would not start. It was the first game since 9th grade in which he would come off the bench.

Fisher ended up smelling like a rose.

  • The Wolverines started out of rhythm, looking nervous and playing sloppy. So just 3:18 into the game, Fisher sent in Jalen.
  • With extra motivation after his demotion, Rose set up numerous baskets by teammates and scored a bunch himself. He never came out of the game, which went into OT. Michigan prevailed 80-77. Jalen led all scorers.
  • Afterward, Fisher put a positive spin on his use of Rose. We wanted to save Jalen from early fouls, hide him on the bench, bring him in so that they wouldn't know who he was, and have him score 34 points. 34 happened to be nine more than all his freshman teammates combined.

But the tough road victory did not spark a winning streak.

  • Michigan lost the next two games, at Minnesota (73-64) and Purdue at home (65-60). Then they went to Champaigne and beat Illinois. Rose was the team's high scorer in all four games.
  • Fisher fussed at his team, which averaged 19 turnovers per game. Men, we've got to concentrate for 40 minutes! We can't win playing 30 minutes of basketball! Protect the basketball! Respect the basketball!
  • All five freshmen dominated in high school, getting by on talent alone. At the college level, they had to play together as a team. That's why Steve hadn't started more than three freshmen in any game.
  • Fisher was also discerning how best to motivate his players individually and collectively. For example, Jimmy didn't like to be yelled at, but Jalen took straight criticism the best.
  • But the inconsistent play continued. A loss at Indiana 89-74, a home win over Wisconsin 98-83 and a road win over Michigan State 89-79 before a 68-58 setback to Ohio State in Crisler Arena.
    Webber and Howard lifted their trash-talking to a new level against MSU, which had recruited both of them hard. Webber yelled at Coach Jud Heathcote: Don't you remember why you recruited me? ... Is this your best defense? You gotta have better than this! That made the crowd even more hostile, booing and hooting and yelling insults. When the game ended, Juwan waved his arms at the fans and grabbed his crotch. Since the TV cameras caught the antics, the Wolverines gained the reputation as a team that not only wanted to beat the opponent but also rub their face in it.
    An article in the Chicago Tribune included this sentence: The Wolverines will continue to underachieve until some of their fabulous freshmen forget about trash talk and hotdogging and concentrate on acquiring the poise and discipline that characterize Ohio State and Indiana.
    Fisher took strong exception to that admonition. Have they ever seen Indiana or Ohio State play? They talk just as much as we do!

A problem developed with junior Michael Talley, Michigan's 1989 Mr. Basketball at Cooley High in Detroit who had been recruited by Bill Frieder just before he left for Arizona State.

  • Talley had started every game as a sophomore. He continued to start when conference play began, but his playing time decreased from 30 minutes a game to 14. He began playing nervously as if looking over his shoulder for the hook. Against MSU he missed all five shots and he went 0-for-4 against the Buckeyes.
  • So Fisher decided to start King in Talley's place against Northwestern. And Michael didn't take the news well. He stewed on the bench during the 81-58 blowout, went home right after the game, and skipped the next practice.
  • Fisher met with Talley and his mother but didn't ease the tension. Michael was convinced Steve wanted to start the Fab Five but was frustrated that the coach wouldn't admit that was the reason he benched him. Steve told Talley he would not make the trip to Notre Dame for the game the next Sunday as punishment for his intentionally missing practice.

The national TV audience watched five UM freshmen walk onto the floor for the opening tip in South Bend.

  • James Voskuil was the last junior to lose his starting job. Fisher told him shortly before the game. James was stunned. His fellow upperclassmen had warned him that this day would come. Fisher promised that he would get minutes off the bench and told him to stay focused. But Voskuil felt humiliated and thought about transferring.
  • The Fab Five started strong and rewarded their coach's faith by scoring every point in the 74-65 victory over a Fighting Irish team that started four seniors .
  • Former Marquette coach Al McGuire, the analyst on the NBC telecast, chided the freshmen for their flamboyant behavior. You can tell they're freshmen. They go too much with the French pastry, too much with the hotdogging. ... I never would have recruited five freshmen. I'd have thought it would cause too much of a problem.
    A number of letters to Fisher complained about the Wolverines' baggy shorts. Some samples:
    I have been a loyal Michigan fan for 20 years. Never have I been so embarrassed as I am with your current basketball team. Why do they have to wear those baggy shorts? They look like clowns.
    I hate the shorts, and I hate the hotdogging. Let the freshmen wait their turn, like everybody else.
Michigan completed the first round of the Big Ten schedule with a record of 5-4. They were ranked #17 in the AP poll.
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The Fab Five - IV
The 1991-92 Michigan Wolverines started Big Ten play with a disappointing 5-4 record and 14-5 overall.
  • UM completed the sweep of Iowa, this time in Crisler Arena, 79-74.
  • Next came the hated Spartans, whom the Wolverines had stung 89-79 in OT January 29 in East Lansing. But Jeb Heathcote's squad returned the favor 70-59.
  • Easy wins over Minnesota (95-70) and Northwestern (76-63) followed before disaster struck in Madison.
  • Wisconsin had enjoyed one winning season the previous ten years and had fallen 98-83 in Ann Arbor January 25. But a month later, the Badgers outrebounded, outshot, outhustled, and did in the Fab Five to the tune of 96-78. Freshman G Michael Finley outscored his Fab Five counterpart Jimmy King 30-0.
  • Coach Steve Fisher was livid and didn't wait until the next day to make life hell for his club. He ordered a film session as soon as the team returned to the hotel. Instead of watching an edited version of the game film the next day, Fisher made them watch the raw footage not once but twice. He and his assistants berated the team throughout both showings. When he asked the players to speak, they gave excuses. Then they started airing all their petty complaints about the food, the hotel, and other non-basketball matters. The meeting lasted until nearly 3 AM with some players hoarse from yelling.

L-R: Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Jalen Rose, Jawan Howard, Chris Webber
The meeting proved to be a turning point although it took a week for the effects to show.
  • Fisher replaced his two Texas freshmen, King and Jimmy Jackson, with Michael Talley and James Voskuil at Ohio State. The team played much better but late turnovers helped the Buckeyes win 77-66.
  • Steve liked the way his squad responded afterward. Chris Webber kicked a locker room door so hard it almost came off its hinges, then punched it. Some of the freshmen fought back tears. At least they cared.
  • Fisher told them: I'm proud of your effort, but I'm bitterly disappointed in the last five-minute stretch. You've got to learn to fight through that. ... You fought hard. If you give me that kind of effort, good things will happen.

The Wolverines responded by winning their last three conference games.

  • The night before the home game against Indiana, Fisher showed the tape of the 1989 National Championship Game. I was going to wait until the tournament to show this. But I think it's time. Men, this is a team that found a way to win. The presentation had the desired effect. The players seemed fascinated watching their predecessors have success at the highest level.
  • The next day the Wolverines beat the #4-ranked team 68-60.
  • Then they upended Purdue 70-61 on the road, then clipped Illinois at home 68-59.
  • That moved UM up to the #14 and clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament - a result that by no means seemed assured several weeks earlier.
  • Michigan received a #6 seed in the Southeast regional.

They traveled to Atlanta to face Temple in the opening round.

  • Although disappointed his team wasn't seeded higher, Fisher regarded the sites his team was assigned to be a good omen. It was in Atlanta two years earlier that AD Bo Schembechler told Fisher he would be the UM coach for the NCAA tournament in place of Bill Frieder, who had announced he was moving to Arizona State the next year. Steve asked for the same hotel rooms. The '89 trail had also gone through Lexington KY
  • Fisher told his staff he would be excited if his team reached the Sweet 16. That's a good accomplishment for a team this young.
    The Wolverines were excited to discover that Muhammed Ali was staying at their hotel with a small entourage while in town for a promotional appearance. Ali invited the team to his suite, where he posed for pictures with the players and did magic tricks. As the players left, the Great One shook hands with Juwan Howard and whispered, Shock the world, the phrase the boxer made famous in the 1960s. Juwan decided to make it the Wolverines' inspirational phrase.
  • After a dream, Webber decided to shave his head and persuaded Jalen Rose to do the same.
    The team took other steps to show just how much they were dedicated to winning the NCAA title. During a players-only meeting in Atlanta, they vowed to give up drinking and sex during the tournament. After we win the Final Four, we get all the women we want, said one.
  • John Chaney's Temple Owls prided themselves on their matchup zone defense. The veteran coach planned to use his team's large edge in experience to prevail. He urged his charges, They're young! Get a lead and I can wis this game for you!
  • The Wolverines led by as many as 14 in the first half, but Temple kept plugging and took the lead in the second half. Then Rose went to work - two of his patented leaning bank shots, a three-pointer, and some FTs to lead all scorers with 19.
  • UM did not crack and won 73-66.
  • Chaney didn't give the victors much of a chance of going much further in the tournament. They overcame mistakes tonight, but I don't know if they can overcome the same mistakes against an equally talented team.

The Temple coach expected #3 Arizona to prove his prediction in the second round. But the Wildcats bit the dust at the hands of East Tennessee State, 87-80, to set up an unlikely matchup.

  • The Buccaneer guards stood 5'11" and 5'6" against 6'8" Rose and 6'5" King.
  • David slew Goliath in the Bible, but ETSU was no match for the Big Ten club. The Wolverines led by 20 at the half and coasted to a 102-90 triumph.
  • Fisher got his wish - a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.

The opponent would be #2 Oklahoma State.

  • The Cowboys started the season with 20 straight wins to rise to #2.
  • Coach Eddie Sutton returned to Lexington where he had coached Kentucky four years before leaving as the result of a recruiting scandal that left the Wildcats on probation for two years.
  • OSU's star was burly 6-7 F Byron Houston who canned 56 points in the first two rounds.

If you had told Fisher before the game that his team would have deep foul problems, he would have resigned himself to defeat.

  • After Oklahoma State led 35-33 at halftime, Webber committed his fourth foul just 2:06 into the 2nd half. Then Jawan Howard followed suit at the 16:02 mark. Then Ray Jackson joined them with 11:30 left.
  • When Chris returned after nine minutes on the bench, he fouled out with 7:13 after scoring only four points.
  • But Jalen Rose came through with 25 points - 18 in the second half, and Eric Riley, one of the "Forgotten Five" who lost their jobs to the Fab Five, stepped into the breach. The 7' C who led the Wolverines in rebounds and blocks the season before, contributed ten valuable minutes during which UM outscored the Cowboys 17-13.
  • The Wolverine cause was aided by a poor performance by Houston, who scored only four points, missing 12 of 14 shots.
    Byron's low point came when, trying to stop Riley, he elbowed Eric in the face. Eric didn't react, but Rose got in Houston's face and said, I was gonna be nice to you, but now that you elbowed my boy, I'm gonna dog your butt! Those comments made Riley feel like he belonged.
  • The lead went back and forth until Michigan led 65-61 with under two minutes left. Riley was fouled and went to the FT line. Since he had missed five of his first six attempts, Fisher called him over and put his arm around him. You're playing great. You'll make these free throws, Just go do it. Emboldened by the nicest conversation he'd had with the coach all year, Eric sank both shots to give him his season high in points, 15, to go with 10 rebounds - a double-double off the bench.
  • The lead reached 70-63 with 58 seconds left, but the Cowboys made a final push that narrowed the margin to 74-72 with 0:07 on the clock. Furthermore, they had possession when Sean Sutton, the coach's son, forced a pass inside to Houston, but King deflected the ball to Howard to seal the victory. A FT made the final tally 75-72.
  • Fisher: It doesn't matter if they're freshmen here for the first time. They know how to play.
  • The loss left the Cowboys in shock. Houston, the target of Jalen's trash-talking throughout the game, sat by his locker crying into a towel. Senior Sean Sutton also fought back tears. You grow up dreaming of going to the Final Four. Unfortunately for me, it's never going to happen. G Darwyn Alexander (from Brother Martin High School, New Orleans) said, They just killed us on the boards with their seconds shots. The Wolverines had 20 offensive rebounds.

The victory gave Michigan a third crack at Ohio State, which had beaten them twice during Big Ten play, by 10 and 11 points.

  • Those two setbacks ran Fisher's losing streak to Randy Ayers' Buckeyes to five.
  • UM's second straight OSU opponent was the #1 seed in the region with a 26-5 record.
  • During the first meeting, Michigan scored only 13 points in the first half - the lowest total for a UM team in 40 years - and that was in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines seemed to have the second meeting under control until three turnovers in 31 seconds put the Bucks ahead to stay.
  • Webber told his teammates: We're gonna beat them this time. We had them scared last time. We're gonna beat every team we lost to this year before this is over.

When teams meet for the third time with a trip to the Final Four on the line, the intensity is far greater than in the first two meetings.

  • The lead changed hands 12 times in the first 10 minutes. But the Wolverines managed to forge a 37-31 at the break.
  • UM kept the lead through the first part of the second half. But with the scoreboard showing 57-51, the young Wolverines began to come apart just as they had done in Columbus. Turnovers and missed FTs gave the Buckeyes the opening they need to run off 11 straight.
  • Fisher called timeout and made a startling request to the team. Close your eyes. I want you all to think positive thoughts. ... You're good enough to win here. ... I want you to see yourself winning. Steve let them picture that for a few seconds, then said, OK. Now let's go out and win it.
  • Baskets by Rose and Webber immediately tied the game. Then Ohio State retook the lead. As the fray entered the final minute, Rose drove down the lane and tossed a soft shot that rolled off the rim to Weber, who put back the rebound.
  • The Buckeyes held for the last shot. Everyone expected that their star, Jimmy Jackson, would be the one to take it. As the clocked ticked under ten seconds, Jackson drove but passed to Chris Jent. But King deflected the ball, and precious seconds elapsed before Jent threw up a desperation shot that clanked off the rim. Overtime!
  • Fisher told his team, Now we attack! They can't believe you're still here! They thought you were done! They don't want to face you now! Stay tough, and this game is yours!
  • Michigan scored the first five points of overtime and held on to win 75-71 as UM fans stormed the floor.

It had been a circuitous route, beset with pitfalls, but the Fab Five had lived up to the preseason hype by making the Final Four.

Michael Finley

John Chaney

Eddie Sutton

Byron Houston

Eric Riley

Sean Sutton

Jalen Rose goes after loose ball against Buckeyes

Jalen Rose goes after loose ball against Buckeyes

Jimmy Jackson vs Michigan

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Jawan Howard rises over Terry Nelson.

Erik Martin drives on Chris Webber.

Coach Fisher talks to Jalen Rose.

Webber dunks

James Voskuil

Howard maneuvers for position.

Rose advances the ball.

Rose whispers to Webber.

The Fab Five - V
The 1991-92 Michigan Wolverines, with five freshmen starters, prepared to face Cincinnati in the Final Four in Minneapolis.
  • Bob Huggins' squad consisted entirely of players from other schools, either transfers or JC players. That made the Bearcats a team of "leftovers," players who were not highly recruit - the opposite of the Wolverines.
  • Speedy PG Nick Van Exel, who came from Trinity (TX) JC, scored 22 in UC's blowout win over Memphis in the Midwest finals. 6'10" C Corie Blount, who, like Van Exel, would be drafted by the NBA, was a JUCO transfer as well.
  • Another of Cincy's best players, Anthony Buford, grew up in Michigan but drew no interest from either UM or Michigan State. Huggins called this team the most unselfish group he'd ever coached.
  • With nothing to lose and something to prove, the Cats boasted they wouldn't be intimidated by the trash-talking Wolverines. During the news conference the day before the game, F Terry Nelson bragged , Chris Webber will not dunk on me. He'll be looking up from the floor before he dunks on me.
  • Webber, who read everything, fumed and got into a shouting match during warm-ups with a Bearcat benchwarmer who claimed to have dunked on Chris in a high school All-Star game.
    One of UM's seniors, Rob Pelinka, whispered to a teammate, Man, I don't know if this is good. He's getting too charged too early.
  • Cincy's braggadocio dispelled any tendency the Wolverines might have to look past the Bearcats to the winner of Duke-Indiana in the other semifinal.
Ray Jackson soars over Anthony Buford (23).
One of Michigan's forgotten upperclassmen would play a crucial role in securing the Fab Five a spot in the finals before a Metrodome crowd of 50,379.
  • The jawing started as the players gathered for the opening tap and continued throughout. As Webber faced Blount for the tipoff, he told him, I"m gonna dunk on your ass all night long. Corie replied, You try it, I'll break your legs.
  • Cincinnati started its trademark press from the get-go, but UM handled it fairly well at first . Both teams shot well out of the gate, UM at 62% and UC at 64% midway through the half.
  • The teams played even-steven until Webber slammed his first dunk to make it 16-16 as part of a 9-0 spurt that eventually put UM ahead 25-18. Michigan was helped by UC's big men getting into early foul trouble.
  • But Cincy responded with a 9-2 run of their own and stayed ahead the rest of the half, which ended with Cincy leading 41-38 after UM scored the final four points capped by a Webber dunk that gave him 10 points. Prior to that, the Wolverines went scoreless for 4 1/2 minutes. The Bearcats tallied 16 points off an even dozen turnovers in the first 20 minutes of action. UC lost the ball only six times.
    Fisher told his guys in the locker room: Men, that's the best they can play. That's the best, and they're only up three. And you have no played your game yet. We have to get the ball in Jalen's hands more. Let him control it. Eliminate the turnovers, and we can win this game.

Despite Steve's halftime admonition, Michigan continued to struggle at the beginning of the second half.

  • Several more turnovers helped Cincinnati forge a 50-43. The Bearcats continued to do a good job of keeping the ball out of Jalen Rose's hands as UM went the first four minutes without a basket.
    Several Cincinnati players began to swagger and step up the trash talking. When junior Michael Talley fouled Van Exel on a three-pointer, Nick tapped his forehead. That was dumb, he told Talley. Dumb, dumb. When the FTs made it 50-43, several Cincy players said It's over as they ran past the Wolverines.
  • Junior James Voskuil entered the fray a few minutes into the half with Cincy leading 54-50 and gave UM a spark. He played excellent defense, rebounded - especially off the offensive board, threw in nine points, and committed no turnovers. His confidence seemed to rub off on his younger teammates.
    Afterwards, Fisher said Vokuil changed the tenor and mindset of the game. We were a little more poised and a little more under control. Plus, we put the rock in.
  • Gradually, Rose took more control of the offense. Michigan caught the Bearcats at 54 and matched the Cats basket for basket until Voskul drove down the lane and made a double-pump basket and was fouled. His old-fashioned three-point play put the Wolverines ahead, 61-58 and Cincy never caught up.
    After Voskuil's acrobatic shot, the UM bench went wild. Webber hugged him, and Jalen slapped his back. An upperclassmen consigned to the bench all season gloried in the adulation of the freshman stars who had taken over the team.
  • The led reached 65-58 before the Bearcats tallied five in a row. But James hit a three to make it 68-63 as the clock ticked under four minutes.
  • Two Rose freebies made it 72-67 with 1:25 showing. Then Webber grabbed a long pass off a rebound and fed King for a dunk for a seven-point lead with 45 ticks left as the Maize and Gold fans began to celebrate victory.
    When Voskuil left the game in the final seconds, the Michigan crowd gave him a standing ovation.
  • The Bearcats didn't quit, but UM held on for a 76-72 triumph.

Four Wolverines scored in double figures.

  • Jimmy King led with 17, one more than Webber. Rose had 13 and Howard, 12.
  • After a shaky few minutes after intermission, Michigan finished the second half with only five turnovers.
  • Primarily, UM clobbered the Bearcats on the boards 46-30, the first time Cincy had been outrebounded in the postseason.

Post-game comments

  • Fisher: My goal was to finish in the upper division of the Big Ten. We've superceded my expectations. ... We've had people come up big all season. Today it was Voskuil. As to the finals: We'll be ready to play. It's just another game, but it's a big, big game. We've got good kids, and I have great trust in them. I don't have cue cards to coach them what to say or how to say it. Hopefully, they are smart enough not to give out good bulletin board material. They get along so well as a group that spontaneity has carried over into how they have handled stressful situations on the court.
  • Voskuil, an aerospace engineering major, said he was just waiting for an opportunity. The biggest adjustment is your mental approach to the game. You have to be consistent, whether you get the minutes or not. Before the game, you have to have a mental mindset that you can go in and be part of the game.
  • Howard on the next game: I'll be so pumped up out there, I'll just be going crazy.
  • Huggins said the fullcourt press of the first half wasn't as effective in the second because his team couldn't score and try to trap on the inbound passes. You score 41 points, you're going to have more of an opportunity to get the press set up. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was we didn't rebound the ball. They beat us on the offensive glass. They beat us to death on the boards.
  • Blount summed up Cincy's reaction to the game. Who was Voskuil?

The Wolverines now faced Duke in the finals.

Continue below ...

Steve Fisher and Mike Krzyzewski shake hands before the game.

Grant Hill guarded by Chris Webber and Jalen Rose

Grant Hill dribbles against James Voskuil.

Jalen Rose tries to dribble past Bobby Hurley.

Grant Hill guards Rose.

Juwan Howard tries to drive.

Grant Hill scores in the last minute.

Duke rejoices.

Laettner helps cut down the net.

The Fab Five - VI
There was no doubt in the Michigan players' minds that they would defeat Duke and win the national championship.
  • It was their destiny, wasn't it?
  • They had beaten every other team that had beaten them - Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State (which won twice in the regular season but fell in the Regional Final), Michigan State, and Wisconsin.
  • The Blue Devils had won 88-85 in OT December 14, and the Wolverines were much better now.

The press couldn't have asked for a better matchup for the finals.

  • The December game had drawn huge ratings before the "Fab Five" had become a household phrase.
  • The media played up the contrast in styles between the brash UM freshman and the staid Duke veterans.

Dennis Brackin of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Tribune summarized the game taking place at the Metrodome.

Could there be a more fitting ending to the college basketball season? Duke-Michigan II for the NCAA title Monday night. The reigning champs against the apparent heirs to the throne. ... This is the rematch Michigan's players have been praying for, hoping for. This is the rematch Duke probably has anticipated all season long.
Doubt it, you say? Recall the words of Duke's Grant Hill after that December meeting.
"These guys are better than Vegas," Hill said, comparing Michigan's Fab Five to the UNLV that Duke defeated in last year's NCAA tournament. "They're more athletic and they're bigger. Vegas had five good players. Michigan goes seven or eight deep and they seem to enjoy playing together. ...
Duke will be attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back national titles since UCLA did in 1973. That was the year most members of Michigan's Fab Five ... were born. The five generally are acclaimed to be the greatest freshman class in college basketball history.

Michigan came into the game healthy, but the Blue Devils had some problems.

  • Starting F Brian Davis was questionable with a high-ankle sprain, and sixth-man Grant Hill would be playing with a bruised knee.
  • Both injuries were sustained in the semifinal victory over Indiana, Duke's 12th straight win to move their record to 33-2.
  • But Michigan suffered a setback Sunday when Juwan Howard came down with a touch of the flu and stayed in bed while the other four starters went to the press conference. The 6'9" C played but not that well.
50,379 jammed the Metrodome, and a worldwide audience estimated at one billion watched on TV.
  • Those watching closely noticed something different about the Fab Five as they were introduced. Only Jalen Rose smiled and, even then, it wasn't his usual wicked smile. There was no attitude, no cockiness, no fire.
  • Coach K told his players, No talking to Michigan. They say something, you ignore it. He needn't have bothered. The Fab Five was feeling the pressure.
  • When Chris Webber stepped into the circle for the opening tip, he came face-to-face with senior Christian Laettner, the player he hated more than any other star in college basketball, the guy he wanted to beat so badly because he epitomized Duke's "We're better than you" attitude.

The story of the first half was Laettner's poor play.

  • On Duke's first possession, he dribbled the ball off his leg. Then he clanged a jumper from the top of the key before making a weak pass across the lane that Webber grabbed. A little later, Christian traveled as he tried to drive.
    What the hell's wrong with Christian? asked Krzyzewski on the Duke sideline. He's playing like he's asleep!
  • But Michigan couldn't take advantage since they had trouble finding a rhythm themselves. Howard, nowhere near 100%, drew a foul but missed both free throws. After nearly five minutes, the score read 5-5.
  • By the middle of the half, Laettner had four turnovers and took a seat next to Coach K, replaced by Cherokee Parks.
  • After a little over five minutes of play, Webber committed his second foul and was replaced by Eric Riley, who quickly scored on a jumper over Laettner, who had returned after a brief rest.
    During a TV timeout, Fisher told his guys, Relax out there. Play the game you know how to play.

Rose drives as Laettner, Hurley, and Thomas Hill watch.
  • Davis entered the game after not starting for the first time all year but lasted only a few minutes. Then Laettner committed his fifth turnover, Rose intercepting and going the length of the court for a layup. Less than a minute later, Chris sank his first basket on a drive. But he soon threw the ball away again, leading to another UM breakaway goal to go up 14-10.
  • But five in a row gave Duke the lead again as the sloppy game continued, the teams trading turnovers. Laettner was so frustrated that he didn't even run down the court when Michigan got a rebound and scored on the other end to lead 22-21.
    K pulled his star and berated him. You stood there! You didn't even run!
  • Michigan retook the lead at 24-22 on Webber's behind-the-back pass to Rob Palinka on a fast break and didn't relinquish it until under two minutes remained in the half when Laettner finally scored from the low post to make 30-29. But a spinning move by Rose down the lane put UM back in front at the half 31-20.
  • The teams had combined for 22 turnovers, 12 by Duke.
    Fisher at halftime: Stay strong. You can do this. They'll make a run at us, but we can withstand it.
    In the other locker room, Krzyzewski gave Laettner a tongue-lashing. You just played the worst half of your life. ... You suck! K banged a blackboard so hard he knocked it over.

L: Bobby Hurley dribbles away from Webber and Jimmy King.
R: Thomas Hill guards Rose.
The story of the second half was Laettner playing like the Naismith Player of the Year.
  • He scored the first basket of the half underneath to put Duke in front. But Howard answered to make it 33-32 Michigan. Little did anyone know that the Wolverines would not lead again after Laettner drained a 3-pointer that told the world, "The real me is back."
  • But they stayed close despite key players getting into foul trouble. Rose picked up his 3rd foul with Duke leading 38-35. Soon after, Webber committed his 3rd and was replaced by Rose, whom Fisher trusted more to avoid further foul trouble. After a brief rest, Chris reentered and scored underneath to make it 41-39 Duke.
  • But the Blue Devil defense made it more and more difficult for Michigan to score, conceding no easy shots. That allowed the Devils to build a 46-39 lead with under 11 minutes to go in what CBS commentator Billy Packer called "not a pretty game at all." During that stretch, Rose fouled for the fourth time but came back shortly afterward and never did foul out.
  • Consecutive baskets by James Voskuil, again contributing quality minutes off the bench, and Webber cut the lead to 46-43. Soon it was 48-45 with 6:51 on the clock. But UM would tally only six more points the rest of the way.
  • Bouncing back from his miserable first half, Laettner had 14 points and 0 turnovers the final 20 minutes.
  • Duke led 54-47 with under four minutes to go when Fisher called for a full court press. But the move backfired as the Devils broke it freely and got numerous easy buckets the rest of the way.
    When he came out with the issue decided, Webber buried his face in a towel, sobbing. Fisher told him, Be proud. Stay strong. we have nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Reserves flooded the floor in the last minute as the Blue Devils defended their championship going away, 71-51.
    Duke scored on their last 12 possessions of the game. When the game ended, Bobby Hurley donned a shirt that read on the front, You can talk the game, but can you play the game? On the back it read, Duke. We can play the game.
    Webber cursed reporters in the hallway on the way to the locker room after the game. Get those cameras outa my face,. ... That's what you want to see is a m*****f****** cry? This is a man here. This is a man!
  • Webber led UM with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Rose was the only other Wolverine in double figures with 11.
  • Laettner (19), Grant Hill (18), and Thomas Hill (16) provided a devastating 1-2-3 punch for Duke with Grant topping the list in rebounds with 10.

Post-game comments

  • Fisher: We're crushed, and we should be, but it's what Duke did more than what we didn't do. We needed a spectacular game, and we didn't have it in us. ... The second half, we had no semblance of order on offense. And I think it was as much their defense as anything. We unraveled with some bad shots, and you can't do that against a good team.
  • Webber faced the press shortly after his hallway outburst. Of course, I'm upset because we could have won the game as easy as we lost it. We had a great season.
  • Krzyzewski: We played terrific defense in the second half. Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill had great games. That was Christian's worst half of the year. He was not himself. Seven turnovers in the first half - are you kidding me? And he was throwing up bricks. And we were only one down. We knew if we could turn up the emotion, we could get going. Our defense in the second half was the story.
  • Grant Hill was asked what Coach K told the team at halftime. Coach just challenged us at halftime to play better. We just tried to come and play hard. Michigan played hard. I'm just so happy we came through in the stretch.


The Wolverines would reach the finals again the following year but lose to another ACC powerhouse, North Carolina, in a much closer game, 77-71



The Fab Five - I

The Fab Five - II

The Fab Five - III

The Fab Five - IV

The Fab Five - V

The Fab Five - VI


Basketball Profiles - 1

Julius Erving - I/II/III
Dave Bing
Dave Meyers
Wayman Tisdale
Hank Gathers
Erik Spoelstra
Perry Wallace
Anthony Davis


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