Florida's Fab 4 vs Michigan's Fab 5
“That probably cost us the game.”
Immediately following his team’s loss in the 1993 National Championship game, Chris Webber understood the magnitude of his error. And it still probably haunts him to this day.
Along with bald heads, black socks, and massive talent, the phrase “Fab Five” conjures up Webber’s ill-fated signaling for a timeout. The Wolverines didn’t have any left, North Carolina took the title, and Michigan’s famous freshmen went home empty handed.
Trouble is, those Wolverines weren’t freshmen. They were sophomores.
Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson did reach the championship game when they were first-year students, but lost an unmemorable game to Duke, 71-51.
Still, everyone seems to recall the other shining moment the Fab Five would like to forget. The title game they reached as sophomores, not the one they reached as freshmen. Yet, for some reason, everyone still associates the ’93 team as the Fab Five freshmen. History has a way of molding the facts.
This is essentially why Florida’s journey towards the 2006 National Championship is also on the verge of becoming historical. The Gators have the opportunity to win the Siemens Trophy with a starting lineup consisting of four sophomore starters. In other words, Gainesville’s Fantastic Foursome has a chance to do what the Fab Five couldn’t. Take home a title within their first two years in school.
Obviously, the Gators are playing in a different era than their maize and blue counterparts. Meaning Florida’s sophomore starters – Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green, and Corey Brewer – aren’t just exceptional, they are exceptions. Almost by rule, mega talents entrenched in high profile programs declare for the draft before they’ve completed their second semester at school. Florida’s four sophomore standouts lead the team in scoring and three of them (Noah, Horford, and Brewer) would be first rounders if they chose the NBA route following this season. If UF tramples UCLA in the title game, no college basketball insider would be shocked if all three were shaking hands with David Stern in June.
It would be foolish to compare this modern-day Florida team with Michigan, circa 1992 (or 1993, for the purposes of this discussion). That team did more than reach two straight NCAA Tournament finals. They changed college basketball forever.
They birthed a frenzy of followers because of their style, but, more importantly and oft-forgotten, they revolutionized the sport. Webber was a post player who could shoot with range, lead a fast break, and pass with flair. At 6-foot-8, Rose handled he ball fluidly and scored effortlessly. He even started the team’s offensive sets, practically personifying the term “point forward.”
This year’s Florida team reeks of Fab Five influence. Noah (6-foot-11), Horford (6-foot-9), and Brewer (6-foot-8) all handle the ball in order to break the press. Noah’s nifty passing skills and Horford’s explosive strength are jarringly reminiscent of old school Webber. Brewer’s all-around game (12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg) is quite comparable to a sophomoric Rose (15.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.9 apg), both statistically and aesthetically. And, of course, the legendary Michigan swagger prominently graces the facial expressions of the Gator stars.
Officially, this Florida Fab Four has already surpassed what the Fab Five accomplished. Ten years after those two seasons as national runner-up, the University of Michigan forfeited all victories in which Webber participated in after booster Ed Martin immersed himself in the program. Meaning the ’92 Final Four games and the entire ’92-’93 season were erased from the record books. Ironically, much like his on-court lapse against the Tar Heels in ‘93, Webber’s off-court transgression also “cost” the team in the end.
But even though the documentation of Michigan’s early nineties accolades have been stripped, their monumental impact still lingers over the college game.
So as Florida dribbles towards history tonight, they will probably channel the spirits of Webber, Rose, Howard, Jackson, and King. For the Gators won’t just be playing UCLA, they’ll be playing against – and with – the eerie ghosts of a Fab Five team from thirteen years ago.