ARLINGTON (AP) – The Fab Five came onto the national basketball landscape like a thunder dunk. You had to notice the five baggy-shorts-wearing freshmen starters from Michigan who made their way to the national championship game.
It was 1992 and people couldn’t believe a team with five players just out of high school could find a way to play for the title. They did, the first such group to do it. Many said it would never happen again.
It took 22 years but we have another group of teenagers who have played their way to a chance to win it all.
Kentucky, which plays Connecticut in the title game Monday night, starts five freshmen. They don’t have a nickname like Michigan did. They just got on a roll in the NCAA tournament like the Fab Five did a generation ago.
“They did something fantastic with a lot of freshmen. So did we and I’d say it’s a good comparison for us,” said Kentucky swingman James Young, a native of Rochester Hills, Mich., who grew up a Michigan State fan. “It shows that we’ve come a long way if we’re being compared to somebody that great, and well, we came a long way from being the team that can barely play to a team that’s finally coming together.”
The Fab Five — Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — didn’t overwhelm the competition during their freshman season, entering the tournament with a 20-9 record, including going 11-7 in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines were a No. 6 seed, two higher than the Wildcats.
“Everybody said we wouldn’t beat Temple in the first game because we were too young to handle their zone and experience,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who recruited and coached the Fab Five at Michigan, said Sunday. “A few games later we beat Ohio State, who everybody thought would win the whole thing, to get to the Final Four. They were playing well and they weren’t afraid of any team.”
They lost to Duke by 20 points in the championship game but nobody watching then will forget the Fab Five for a lot of reasons.
“We were so much either loved or hated and judged by the way we looked,” Rose said for a 15th anniversary story. “Back then, it was ‘Oh, look at these hoodlums, these thugs, these gangsters,’ because we had big shorts, because we had black shoes and black socks. But then once Michael Jordan and the Bulls started wearing them, once mainstream America started to wear them and corporate America embraced it, then I guess it became cool.”
The Wildcats, who come in with a 29-10 record, including 12-6 in the Southeastern Conference, know all about the Fab Five. Only three players on the Kentucky roster were even born when the Fab Five played its first game, but the documentary has become a staple on television.
“I watched it last night because I couldn’t go to sleep,” Kentucky forward Julius Randle said. “What they did was absolutely ridiculous as far as the game, how they were trendsetters, stuff they did. You can use it as motivation, anybody wants to do something that’s never been done in the history of the game.”
Aaron Harrison, who has hit big 3-pointers for Kentucky in the three games leading to Monday night, is an unabashed fan of the Fab Five.
“That is my favorite documentary. I’ve watched it 10 times,” Harrison said. “It’s amazing what they did for the college game. It was great that they showed it doesn’t matter how old you are but how you’re playing together. That’s the most important thing.”
Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, James Young and Dakari Johnson have a chance to go one better than the Fab Five.
The Kentucky players are in the age of “one and done” so it’s doubtful they will all be back for a sophomore season.
All of the Fab Five came back and they reached the title game again, losing to North Carolina in a game known mostly for the timeout called by Webber that Michigan didn’t have. Webber left after his sophomore season, Howard and Rose the next season. King and Jackson played for four seasons.
They will now be linked forever as the freshman-laden teams to reach the title game.
“The correlation,” Kentucky John Calipari said, “they were young. We are young.”