There are good college teams, great and then you have those that completely changed the way we look at the game. In 1991 five freshmen entered the campus of the University of Michigan and turned the college basketball scene upside down.
Till this day there has not been another recruiting class that has managed to have this much talent on one team. You may get three players, max but what the Michigan Wolverines were able to achieve with their signings was mind-blowing. Heading the list was Chris Webber, Jalen Rose from Detroit, Juwan Howard from Chicago, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson from Texas. While each player was the best individually in their respective states, when they came together, it was as if the Dream Team played together every night.
As a kid in high school at the time they were better than the NBA, they had their haters as they changed the game. Not just in the way they played but their style, their swag, their persona, everything was just different from what we used to. We were used to the Duke’s, Kentucky’s, UCLA’s of the world with their shorty shorts and ultra tight jerseys but here came these five African-American kids with their baggy shorts, loose jersey’s, black socks and black shoes. A far cry from the norm.
And this was just the style they dressed in. When the ball was thrown into the air, what they had on didn’t matter, you were on the edge of your seat wondering what they would do next. How many 6′-8″ PG’s did you know of back then, or now for that matter? Rose was crafty with the ball and for his size, he had an advantage over every defender that went against him. Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were the spark plugs on the team, both offensively and defensively as they did the dirty work that often went unnoticed. Then you had the most feared frontcourt in all of the college basketball, in Howard and Webber.
Howard was the quiet one that managed to grab every board, play tight defense and would chip in with an occasional 15 points nightly. Webber was the best of the bunch; he was the hammer, the one that shut the door on any run a team would muster. Webber averaged a double-double and put fear into every defender with how scowl and Thor-like presence.
But for everything they managed to do the Fab 5 had their flaws. They could not win when it mattered most, most notably, beat the top ACC schools. In their first year together they managed to make the NCAA Tournament Championship only to face a Duke University team that beat them earlier in the season at home in overtime. You could image the hype surrounding this game, a rematch with the ultimate title on the line, preppy vs. urban. This was not the top billing many had hoped for as Duke completely crushed the freshman by 20 points ending what a remarkable run was.
The following season they had what everyone said they needed to win, experience and they went through the regular season focused on one goal, getting back to that final game. But the season started off the same as it ended, with Michigan losing to Duke in their 2nd game, but unlike last season there would be no rematch with the ACC school, there would be another issue on the horizon. In their ninth game of the season, the Wolverines would face the University of North Carolina who was ranked 5th in the nation at the time. The Wolverines would go on to win that game 79-78, but the stage was set for what would become one of the most thrilling and mistake-filled seconds in NCAA history later on.
The Wolverines fought their way back to the final game only to meet the same UNC team they beat months earlier. This time, it was to be different, they beat this ACC school before and knew they could do it again but, then it happened.
With 20 seconds left, Webber grabbed the rebound off a missed free throw, took a dribble, stopped, then dribbled again (missed by the refs, I don’t know how), now in panic mode, he raced up the court and called The Infamous Timeout. The game was over.
Two straight NCAA Championship games, two straight ACC teams and they couldn’t beat either. There was not a complete team for those two years than the Wolverines. It just wasn’t in the cards for them to win. The Fab 5 will go down in history as one of the best college teams of All Time, for all the success and talent they had, they had one weakness, the ACC.