The Fab Five influence is found all across the Big Ten and college basketball
INDIANAPOLIS — The influence is everywhere at the Big Ten tournament. Every team here has baggy shorts. Michigan and Northwestern both wore black socks and black sneakers.
To understand how much the Michigan Fab Five has effected the game of basketball, all you need to do is look around. Never mind none of the players in Indianapolis are old enough to remember watching Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King and Juwan Howard play in back-to-back national title games.
They all know who they are.
“Before them, there wasn’t the long shorts or black socks,” said Michigan guard Eso Akunne, an Ann Arbor native. “It allowed people to express themselves and not be afraid to. They were really confident, some say cocky, but confident and they had a lot of swagger.
“They felt that they were ready and didn’t need to wait.”
The famed recruiting class's high-flying, trash-talking, in-your-face style was something that, in many ways, originated in Ann Arbor from 1991-93, the two years all five players were at Michigan.
Akunne first started watching old Fab Five games in first grade and constantly heard stories about the group that revolutionized basketball enough to have a 100-minute documentary made about them that will be televised Sunday on ESPN at 9 p.m.
What he heard about more than anything those teams did on the court were the things they did off of it.
“They were treated like rock stars when they would go places,” Akunne said. “They have a lot of myth and mystery behind them and how it all came together. It’s a great story.”
The Fab Five also had a more direct link to the way things in college basketball are today.
Then-Michigan coach Steve Fisher began the season starting three freshmen: Webber, Rose and Howard. Then he added King to the lineup and finally, midway through the season, Jackson.
In doing so, Fisher changed the way freshmen were viewed to fans and coaches — turning them from all being project players to making an impact right away.
“They have a big influence,” Minnesota forward Rodney Williams said. “With them being all freshmen, they give all incoming freshmen hope that they can go in and do real good.”
It also changed the conversations coaches have with recruits. Incoming players would rarely tell coaches they wanted to play or contribute right away. They’d also rarely be expected to.
Now, it’s the norm. Hope turned into the rule.
“Now, it’s not even that, it’s expected,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “You recruit a kid and he’s like ‘I want to come in and play.’ That’s it. Bad guys tell you that.
“The good guys, the guys in the magazines, they think they are going to name arenas after them, you know.”
Carmody remembers watching the Fab Five while he was an assistant at Princeton. Throughout their freshmen year, Carmody's thought process went from 'Can they win in college like they won in high school?' to 'Wow, these guys are going to the Final Four.'
To this generation of college players, the first ones to have really grown up with the Fab Five influence their entire lives, many are excited to learn more about them from Sunday’s documentary.
Even if they happen to live in East Lansing.
“I know absolutely nothing about the Fab Five. All I know is that Chris Webber, Jalen Rose was on the team, Juwan Howard,” Michigan State forward Delvon Roe said. “But watching the little special that is going to be put on ESPN is great.
“I’m so excited to watch it, ready to watch it. Have to keep that at a whisper at Michigan State, but I’m really excited to watch that.”
What others in the Big Ten are saying about the Fab Five:
David Lighty, Ohio State: “I got a recorder set for 9 on ESPN. I have to see it. For me, they have the Fab Five and I came in as a freshman as a member of the Thad Five. So maybe we compare ourselves a little and see how much fun they had, things they were doing. They were the first ones to do it and maybe we were a replica.”
Jon Diebler, Ohio State: “I would love to watch it. I don’t know an extreme amount about the Fab Five. They might not show it in Ohio. I just love watching basketball and the history of basketball. Obviously, you hear that is one of the best teams ever and I know Jalen is a great NBA player, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, those are some pretty big names right there.”
William Buford, Ohio State: “They were killers. Five freshmen? And they were killing. You never seen anything like it, five freshmen coming in and attacking college like that.”
Jon Horford, Michigan: “I knew of them. I knew the success and, of course, the timeout. My coaches always would say ‘Don’t call a timeout like Chris Webber.’ It was bad, but they were all State fans and that’s why. I knew a lot about them and have great respect for them.”
John Shurna, Northwestern: “I didn’t know the culture, I guess, but I know the Fab Five. And we’re wearing black socks, isn’t that what the Fab Five claimed they were the first to do? They claimed long shorts, too, black socks and long shorts is their claim. I don’t know too much else, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, all those guys.”
Devyn Marble, Iowa: “They have to do a lot with college basketball and especially Michigan. They are around the community. They have a lot to do with the Michigan heritage in basketball and college basketball.”
Drew Crawford, Northwestern: “I had always heard about them, just the fact that they were five freshmen coming in making all this noise, it’s unbelievable. I appreciate it now more than I did as a little kid because as a kid I didn’t really understand how big it was for freshmen to come in and do that. Let alone five, all five of them being freshmen. Now, I appreciate it even more.”
Alex Marcotullio, Northwestern: “My dad and uncle would go watch them in high school and they would go to gyms where they had to kick people out of the gyms because it was so hot and there would be water building up on the ground. It changed the face of the game, I believe. Starting from the way they looked and how they carried themselves to how they played, the high-flying action, it turned over to today’s game.”