Lovable Losers: Remembering the Fab Five Era

2012-fab-five

91-93 Michigan Wolverines

Head Coach: Steve Fisher

Record: 56-14

Final Fours: 2

Big Ten Titles: 0

National Championships: 0

Starters: F Ray Jackson, F Juwan Howard, C Chris Webber,

G Jimmy King, G Jalen Rose

Key Role Players: G Rob Pelinka  C Eric Riley  F Michael Talley

With the NCAA tournament only hours away from starting (oh who am I kidding? By the time you read this, it may be the 2nd round), I thought it’d be fitting to give a quick shout out to the Michigan Fab Five. They changed the game of college basketball, taking what the Runnin’ Rebels started and taking it to a whole other level as far as style, flair, and image.

Unlike UNLV, they never won a championship, losing in the title game back to back years. In fact, they never even won a Big Ten title (something Bill Walton used to always bring up back in the day).

Were they overhyped? Perhaps. Were they revolutionary? Absolutely. No team dared to wear  baggy shorts, and low cut blacks socks. No team encapsulated the times like they did, coming onto the scene right around the beginning of the ‘golden age of hip hop’.

I was in 7th grade when the Fab Five formed, having no idea that only 30 miles away from my Dallas suburb was an 18 yr-old named Jimmy King, who could jump out of the gym. In fact, I’d never even watched a full college basketball game up until the 1991-92 NCAA tournament. My dad rooted for teams like  UNLV, Arkansas and Georgetown,  because they had “more brothas” playing for them. The games were always on in the background, but the only sports I liked back then were football and baseball.

That all changed after watching my first Michigan basketball game. These guys were brash, fun, and high flying. Nothing gave me a bigger thrill than watching Chris Webber throw down an alley-oop dunk, and Jimmy King in the open court was an automatic two points. After watching them play the Bob Huggins coached Cincinnati Bearcats (led by Nick Van Exel) in the semi-finals, I spent the rest of the eveing practicing Jalen Rose’s lefty leaner in my buddy’s driveway.

I made some academic mistakes that forced my mother to ground me from television, and I was stuck listening to the championship game against Duke on the radio. The first half of the game went well for Michigan, but Duke dismantled them in the second half of the game. I listened in dissatisfaction while trying to imagine what Webber’s 360 dunk must have looked like on television.

We didn’t have cable at my house. This made every televised Michigan game an event, and I sat in front of the living room tv humming the “Hail to the Victors” fight song during the timeouts. One particular conference game between the Wolverines and Hoosiers was especially memorable because it got interrupted by local coverage of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco.

I knew nothing about David Koresh, and had never been to Waco, and couldn’t care less at the time about any of it. The game was over by the time they cut back to the action. Indiana fans were cheering and the Wolverines were sulking on the sidelines as time expired.

The Fab Five run through the tournament was not a thing of beauty. They had trouble scoring at times because they weren’t a very good three point shooting team. Rob Pelinka (also known as NBA superagent to players like Kobe Bryant and James Harden) was their biggest outside threat off the bench. You could see how things opened up inside when he was in the game, as teams couldn’t sag off.

Their bench was also pretty young and thin; one that only went 8 deep at best. It goes to show just how good their starting five were because everyone (not named Ray Jackson) played over 1,000 minutes for the season.

I wonder now in hindsight if playing all five freshman (and sophomores) as starters was the best idea. Chemistry aside, I wonder just how more effective the second unit would have been had  King and Jackson led the helm.

Back then, small ball wasn’t really a thing outside of teams like FSU (with their 3 guard attack of Bobby Sura, Charlie Ward, and Sam Cassell) and sometimes Duke, but this era of Michigan ball sometimes looked unbalanced.

UCLA and Kentucky took the Wolverines to the limit before bowing out of the tournament, and a part of me wonders if they were spent by the end of that championship game against North Carolina. Mental fatigue can make people do funny things, and maybe that contributed to that ill fated timeout (causing me to lose my first ever sports bet).

There are plenty of games to watch online (courtesy of the NCAA vault), if you feel yourself geting nolstagic for the New Edition of 90’s basketball. They were not the most fundamentally sound of teams, and they rubbed a lot of old white people the wrong way, but they were still a lot of fun to watch.

You can’t look at the career paths of the Freshman Fab Five and say they were losers. Webber and Rose has gone on to have outstanding careers in the media, while Howard is an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. Ray Jackson runs an elite basketball program for Austin youth. Jimmy King is mentoring youth in Detroit.

King and Jackson didn’t do much professionally after Michigan, while Webber, Howard, and Rose played on various entertaining teams in the NBA (Howard of course got a couple of rings with the Heat).

You can bring up the off the court controversies that caused Michigan to vacate the wins, and you can always bring up the fact that Michigan never won any kind of championship. But as Jalen Rose himself says, “there is the scoreboard, and there is the score of the game of life.” I think you can say they all won in that regard–especially Rob Pelinka, that dude is filthy rich.

Bowled over in Boulder and Other Icy Receptions [originally posted 12/9/13 on sportsblog.com]

Much like most of the people in this region who are experiencing an early visit from the winter, I spent the majority of my weekend indoors. The football games, with the added elements were entertaining to watch, but I wouldn’t trade places with not a player nor fan this weekend. I felt rather lucky to be comfortably lying on the couch, vegging out on what turned out to be a spectacular sports Saturday.

Friday night found me at a buddy’s apartment, sitting in front of his television, praying that the Baylor-Kentucky women’s game did not go into a 5th overtime. Luckily I had taken a nap after work, and hadn’t lost all my juju, but I was worried that the delay would affect the quality of play with the Men’s game–played in a fairly empty JerryWorld.

I was happy to be proven wrong. Not long after tip off, both teams had traded dunks within the first five possessions. It ended up being a really entertaining matchup with Baylor’s front court length being too much for Kentucky.

Julius Randle still put up 16 and 8 but was not able to dominate the game like he had been for the past 2 weeks. Aaron Harrison “the knucklehead twin” had a decent game with 15 points and 6 assists. James Young continued his consistent efficiency with 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting (4-7 from 3 point land).

Kentucky only had 2 points from their bench. That will not cut it against a ranked team like Baylor. All that being said, Kentucky looks like they could be really good come March. This team reminds me of the ’08 Memphis squad that Calipari took to the Championship against the Jayhawks.

They have lots of length (I’m really feeling Willie Cauley-Stein’s game), inconsistent outside shooting, and their free throw shooting is pretty poor. A team can get pretty far with a makeup like this if they are blowing teams out, but the margin is much smaller in tightly contested games against good opponents.

John Calipari is a great recruiter but as X’s and O’s go, he’s been known to get out coached when the talent gap has been even between teams. I keep joking to my buddy, a lifetime Wildcat fan, that as soon as Calipari leaves (because of the inevitable sanctions that will creep up), Travis Ford will be his replacement.

Baylor looked really good. Their front court really impressed me. Isiah Austin and Corey Jefferson really brought it. The point guard Kenny Cherry had a great game as well, pouring in 18 points. I could see Baylor winning a couple of home games against Oklahoma State and Kansas on the right night. Their Achilles heel will be at the guard positions.

Cherry is decent but it took him 15 shots to get 18 points, and they had trouble getting the ball up the court without turning it over. They didn’t get very much production from Brady Heslip, Ish Wainwright, and Gary Franklin (5 pts combined from the 3). They messed up five consecutive pick n rolls during one particular stretch; either not seeing the open big man or messing the pass up altogether.

They’ll make the tourney but will get knocked out by a team with good back court and good head coach with a good zone defensive scheme (Syracuse maybe?). They shoot too many jump shots to be taken seriously as a contender.

*** I got to watch the Duke vs. Michigan game last Tuesday night. What a waste of time that was. If you want to know how Mitch McGary will look in the NBA, just watch the tape of this game. I’m not sure why everyone is so high on him. At best he reminds me of a poor man’s David Lee. McGary looked too slow for Duke’s pressure D and they took advantage of him and the Wolverines’ lack of an elite point guard.That being said he still managed to put up 15 and 14. If he learns how to play D at the NBA level and rebound he can be as good as Nick Collison, an energy and rebounds guy. Maybe I’m wrong, who knows.

Michigan looked horrible. The only one who showed up to play was that Levert’s nephew Caris.Quinn Cook and Rodney Hood got to the rack whenever they wanted to and Michgan couldn’t rotate fast enough to get out on the shooters. Duke made 8 – pointers but chucked up 23 attempts (many of them wide open it seemed). Had Jabari Parker shot been falling the game would have been a blowout. Let me tell you that the game never seemed as close as a ten point deficit. Duke was in control the whole time.

**** Saturday was a highly anticipated day around here. The KC Sporting were in the MLS cup championship and for the first time since I have been here, I was in a bar where the Jayhawks were second fiddle. Sporting fans would be rewarded for their diligence, with an epic win in overtime on penalty kicks.

KU fans were treated to a really exciting, but revealing loss to the Colorado Buffaloes. I liked how krunk the fans were in that building. I have been told that historically, their venue would joking be referred to as “Allen Fieldhouse West” The CU fans represented though. The ball players fed off it and it was definitely a tough environment.

I liked how the Jayhawks handled themselves. They didn’t fold up, they fought back to tie it, and almost came back and won a game they didn’t deserve to win. Wiggins came on in the 2nd half after playing sparingly the first half (picked up a careless reaching foul that put him on the bench very early). He had 16 second half points down the stretch (22 points on 7-11 shooting).

They needed his production too. No one else got close to scoring 20 points. Joel Embiid had only ten points as he struggled with foul trouble. Perry Ellis only had 10 points. Ellis only shot the ball 6 times .The team as a whole shot attempted 20 3 pointers and only made 5 of them. The team also only had 11 assists and were only got 8 offensive rebounds to the Buffaloes 15. These stats will tell you all you need to know about the game and why the Jayhawks were lucky to only lose by 3 points.

They made the Buffs look like a team better than what their ranking (currently unranked) suggested. Guard Jaron Hopkins was the only starter to not hit double digits in scoring. The Buffs found way to find the hole in the zone on almost every possession and seemed to hit every open jumper that was available. They looked in sync down the stretch, making the correct passes and getting the ball to the open perimeter player.

Spencer Dinwiddie (whose mustache and name suggest a future as a high school principal somewhere in the Denver area) played a great game. He had 15 points and 7 assists (3-8 shooting) and seemed to be in on every critical play (save the quarter court heave at the end by Askia Booker).

So bad officiating, foul trouble, and a little bit of luck and heroics conspired to hand the Jayhawks their second loss of the season to an inferior opponent. One could argue that this was the story line to the first loss out in the Bahamas (if you take away the distractions of alcohol, the holidays, the stomach flu, and the Bahamas).

There is no reason for Jayhawks fans to panic. The Buffaloes played out of their minds, good for them. We’ll see how good they are in March. I think this game on Tuesday will be a great revelation of what adjustments the team needs to make. Perhaps that means starting Embiid and Mason and going with a near all Freshman lineup. I’m excited to see how they do in Gainesville.

***** A quick nod to the NBA ballers who went HAM this past week. We’ll call it THACLICKPICKA’s ALL KOSHER ALL STARS for dudes who go ham throughout the week.

PG STEPH CURRY- BALLING!!!!

PG DAMIEN LILLARD- BALLING!!

SF PAUL GEORGE– Did you see his game against the Trailblazers last week? Bro went HAM!

PF KEVIN DURANT– dude was straight balling against Indy last night. FILTHY!!!

and lastly at

Center from Seagoville, Texas:

LAMARCUS!!!!!!!!