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Posted on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Experiencing U-M men's basketball team at number one, in 1992 and now

By Jenn McKee


As the Michigan student section predicted against Purdue on Thursday, Jan. 24, the Michigan basketball team is No. 1 for the first time in more than 20 years, when writer Jenn McKee could have been found in the section.

Joseph Tobianski | file photo

My senior year of college - which was my third year playing trombone in the University of Michigan men's basketball band - was the last time the team was ranked number one in the country.

Until today.

And boy, do things feel different now. We’ve come a long way, but - for hardcore Wolverine hoop fans deeply stung and disillusioned by the Fab Five/Ed Martin scandal - it feels like it’s taken an awfully long time to get back to this place, too.

Back in 1992, after our five “diaper dandy” freshmen decided to “shock the world” by making it to the NCAA tourney finals (where, admittedly, they got trounced by Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and the rest of the Duke Blue Devils), we started the 1992-93 season with a number one ranking and something to prove.


Chris Webber (front) and the Fab Five were no match for Christian Laettner (back) and the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils in the 1992 national championship game, but returned the following season with all five starters and a top ranking.

AnnArbor News file photo

The team gave the media fits, as sportswriters scrambled to decide whether we were an inspiring, anti-establishment Cinderella team, or a bunch of undisciplined, trash-talking, shorts-that-look-like-pants-wearing kids that had talent, but would never be able to close the deal.

We were both, of course.

And because I was a senior at the time, my own feelings and anxieties got wrapped up in the team’s fate. An English major with no clear direction, and a dwindling sense of my own potential, I feared my own looming graduation day; and far from “shocking the world,” I thought I’d instead just be shocking my parents by settling for a minimum-wage job after they’d invested thousands in my top-notch education.

But the on- and off-court swagger of Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson gave me the vicarious thrill of bravado. When they jawed at opponents between plays, and shamelessly showboated on a breakaway, I swooned at their fearlessness and unapologetic ego. At a time when I felt painfully vulnerable and scared most of the time, my team, 40 minutes at a time, made me feel like I could fly.

We had wax wings, of course, and flew too close to the sun. We lost the final game of the NCAA tournament yet again - I’ll just say the words “time out” and it will all come painfully rushing back to you - and we lost our biggest star, Webber, to the NBA. Our moment had passed, and we had nothing but some great games and memories to show for it.

A few years later, allegations surfaced about U-M booster Ed Martin giving money to Webber (as well as Louis Bullock, Robert “Tractor” Traylor, and Maurice Taylor); and I was asked to play with a ragtag group of alumni band members at a “We Believe in Steve” rally, where cardboard paddles emblazoned with Steve Fisher’s apple-cheeked face were defiantly held in the air.


After allegations of Michigan booster Ed Martin, pictured above leaving a federal courthouse in Detroit in 2002, giving money to players hit, dark days would follow for the Michigan basketball team and its fans.

Booth Newspapers file photo

Fisher left Ann Arbor shortly thereafter, trailing dark clouds in his wake, and former assistant coach Brian Ellerbe stepped in. And things got worse for Michigan basketball.

In the fall of 2002, the NCAA’s sanctions hit the program and fans hard, but with this hitting-rock-bottom moment came a single glimpse of silver lining: Maybe now we could gradually put the scandal behind us and build a team we’re proud of again.

Tommy Amaker had the unenviable task of seeing us through that period, when recruiting was an impossible task. He did so with impeccable class and dignity - exactly what we all needed. And there were flashes of fun Michigan basketball moments along the way.

But when the NIT seemed to be all we could hope for, John Beilein was brought on board in 2007. Of the hires from West Virginia that year, football coach Rich Rodriguez got the lion’s share of ink. Beilein, though, was the quiet, unfussy hero who would finally bring Michigan basketball back to number one.

Now I’m 20 years past my Fab Five fan days. I’m almost 10 years married (to a man who played trombone a few chairs away from me in the basketball band), and have two young daughters. We don’t get to many games at Crisler, but we record every one, to watch them after the kids are in bed.

We watched Beilein’s inevitably rough first season, then thrilled to see him, after just one year, not only bring the team back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years, but win its first-round game.


John Beilein (far right) Trey Burke (3) Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) have given Wolverines fans much to cheer about, as has Nik Stauskas (11) of late.

Melanie Maxwell | file photo

And more recently, the play of Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. regularly inspires my husband and I to yell and pump our fists and jump up and down in our living room, as if we were those 20-year-old versions of ourselves again, standing in the band section of Crisler (when the back-row trumpets weren’t constantly chiding us to sit down, that is).

The electricity that made the Fab Five era so exciting is finally back in Crisler, thanks to Beilein’s brilliant coaching and recruiting, and to the young players he's convinced to come to Michigan, in hopes of bringing the program back to where it should be.

Yes, we’ll likely lose this number one ranking during the course of the brutal Big Ten season. But I’m really, really enjoying it for now. Strangely, when I was in college, the team's number one ranking felt like something we were entitled to. Now, it feels like an unexpected bit of grace. We get to feel like we’re flying again.

But this time, it feels more like we’re riding a phoenix instead of catching a ride with Icarus.

Here’s hoping, anyway.

Jenn McKee is a digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

Never heard of a girl trombone player.

Jenn McKee

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 8:01 p.m.

We love Trombone Shorty in our house, not surprisingly. :)


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

Thanks for clueing me in Jenn! I'll have to check out Ms. Liston's recordings. I love listening to Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Rosolino, et al. Trombone Shorty's no slouch either - his Ann Arbor show was fantastic.

Jenn McKee

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

We're out there! I know TONS of them. Here's a legendary one who made a name for herself long before me and my friends were around:


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 11:45 a.m.

During my undergrad yrs at M, it was the other high water mark: 1963-66. I was a reporter on the Daily in 63-64 and drew the enviable assignment of joining Dick Reynolds in LA to cover the M's first fabulous team in a tournament there. Talk about flying! There was no M basketball history to match that group against. They certainly match up against any college's best basketball years, not the least M. Unless you were there, you have no idea how Yost was rocking! However, I am beginning to conclude that we are on the cusp of another period that contends with and may equal the Cazzie-Bill-Ollie years. And it starts with the fabulous coaching staff -- they were here before the players. We are blessed again!!

Terry Star21

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 2:40 a.m.

Jenn; very nice writing. I can see you really cherished your time at M, and the personal touch talking about Voskull was great - very few people put that out there. Nice job.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 10:13 p.m.

Nice retrospective article. For those who do not have access to TV broadcasts of Michigan sports, you can follow the game in real time using GameTracker accessed from the team's "schedule" page at You can also listen to the radio broadcast at the same site which I appreciated.

Geoff Larcom

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:49 p.m.

Hear, hear. I've watched U-M hoops since the early days of Johnny Orr in the 1970s until now. As a sports editor overseeing coverage and later a reporter, I covered the end of the Bill Frieder era, the Ed Martin scandal, the Fab Five, Brian Ellerbe, Tommy Amaker, etc, etc. From an off-court and on-court perspective, the program is clearly at its best point since the days when Dave Strack coached the likes of Cazzie Russell, Bill Buntin and Oliver Darden back at old Yost Field House in the 1960s. BTW: The reporter who covered the Fab Five during that second Final Four year? Jason Whitlock. It was quite a time. Also, it's worth noting that the four other members of the Fab Five - Rose, King, Howard and Jackson - were not cited in the NCAA findings, and that this team had some other great kids, such as James Voskuil and Rob Pelinka, now a successful sports agent.

Blue Marker

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

I never cared for Whitlock's style back in the days of the old Ann Arbor News. But I did find the piece he wrote after Jovan Belcher (Kansas City Cheif's suicide) one of the most moving I've ever read. Still, too much Drew Sharp for me.

Jenn McKee

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:54 p.m.

James Voskuil was actually the object of an intense crush for me back in the day. :) My b-ball band friends got a message to him, asking him to come to my 21st birthday party, and he CAME! It's one of my favorite college memories. We all watched a Big Ten game while he was at the house, and he provided some behind-the-scenes commentary/dirt about various players and programs. It was a great time, and he was extremely nice.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:47 p.m.

Go Blue from rainy incinnati. I agree wirh this writer regarding the history of former teams. The only problem I had tis weekend that for some reason te BIG TEN network chanell was not on our server. BOO HISS. Here is hoping that will be cured soon. Being down here in the enemy territory we loyal fans need all the help we can get. Here is to a greateam and a great coach!! Again GO BLUE