It seems hard to believe but it’s been over 25 years since the University of Michigan basketball program welcomed a recruiting class many have called “the greatest class ever recruited”. The 1991 recruiting class included five players who were all ranked among the top 100 players coming out of high school that year. The Michigan FAB 5 changed college basketball forever.
Among those players were Detroit natives Chris Webber (ranked 4th) and Jalen Rose (ranked 6th). The class also included Chicago’s Juwan Howard (ranked 3rd) and they then reached down to the state of Texas and landed Jimmy King (#9) and Ray Jackson (#84). All of the recruits other than Jackson played in the 1991 McDonald’s All-American game, a showcase for the best high school players in the nation.
From the time the five recruits stepped on Michigan’s campus for the first time, they had a swagger about them. A swagger that said they were the best and that nobody could compete with them. There was no intimidation from upperclassmen when they arrived. In fact, it was just the opposite. The skills and confidence these young players provided told the upperclassmen it was only a matter of time before they would be taking a seat on the bench when tip-off approached.
At the beginning of their freshman season, only three of the freshman started (Webber, Howard and Rose). But by February of that year, Head Coach Steve Fisher started all five players against Notre Dame and they ended up accounting for all of the team’s points that day. During the rest of that season, the Fab Five started together in all but one of the remaining games.
From the beginning, this was a close bunch of players who had their own ideas of how to act, play and look. In addition to the swagger that they displayed both on and off the court, they played a version of playground ball not seen before in the structured world of college basketball. Critics questioned the “streetball” way they played which included fancy passes and alley-oops, but according to the players, they knew exactly what they were doing. And it was highly effective.
STARTING A CULTURE TREND
The Fab Five also started a fashion revolution that extends to modern day players even in today’s basketball. Featuring baggy shorts and black socks, it was clear the players were behind this trend and they were on a mission to change some perceptions in the basketball world. They were the new kind of player and needed a new look and identity. In a way, it was a culture shift not necessarily embraced by all. Many thought their swag came across as cocky and the trash talk a little bit playground. But that’s the way these players grew up playing and how they planned to continue playing.
During a game in their freshman season, the young Wolverines were matched up against the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils. Anxious to make a statement, the Fab Five put on a show and talked a lot of trash, taking the defending champs to overtime before dropping a 3-point decision. But that was only a preview for later in the year when the surprising freshman would make it all the way to the NCAA Championship game where Duke would be waiting again. Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t as close as the Blue Devils would win handily, 71-51.
As sophomores, the Wolverines had the attention of every basketball fan. They were a feared group of players on the court and a much talked about team by fans. They continued their swagger, flashy play and fashion statements and also embraced the hip-hop world. Growing up within the popular hip-hop culture, the players embraced it and the sound of that music was a staple in the Michigan locker room.
Success on the court also continued as for the second straight year they reached the NCAA Title game. However, they went down once again, this time to North Carolina in a game known as the Chris Webber “timeout” game in which he signaled a timeout when they had none remaining. That resulted in a technical foul which ended up sealing the win for the Tar Heels.
That would end up being the end of the Fab Five as we knew it as Webber left for the NBA after his sophomore year. Howard and Rose stayed one more season and left for the NBA after their junior season, which left King and Jackson as the only Fab Five members remaining.
Everyone but Jackson ended up playing in the NBA with Webber and Rose having the most success. Here is a look at where each of the Fab Five went after Michigan and what they are doing today.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Chris Webber went on to play parts of 17 seasons in the league with a scoring average of over 20 points a game. He was a five-time NBA All-Star and has his # 4 jersey retired by the Sacramento Kings. He is currently an NBA analyst for both TNT and NBA TV.
Jalen Rose played thirteen seasons in the NBA and had his most success as a member of the Indiana Pacers. Rose finished his career with a scoring average of 14.3 points per game. He now works for ESPN as an analyst.
Juwan Howard played parts of seventeen seasons in the NBA and has two NBA Championship rings. He also made one All-Star appearance. He now serves as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat.
Jimmy King played in parts of two NBA seasons and bounced around the CBA league. He went into business after his basketball career.
Ray Jackson played in the CBA but never saw an NBA court. He now runs a non-profit organization to help kids in school and on the court.
Looking back, the Fab Five made a mark on basketball that is still seen today. Not only with their on-court behavior but also with setting a trend for the new kind of player. Some thanks has to go to Coach Fisher who allowed the players to be what they wanted to be and exert their independence. The Fab Five may have also been the front-runners for creating the “super teams” we see today in the NBA. It’s debatable whether that has been good or bad for the league.
Either way, the Michigan FAB 5 will always be remembered and without a doubt had an influence on everything that came after.