Moments before the two would face each other in a pickup game this summer at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan guard Louis Bullock met his idol, former Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas, for the first time. Bullock smiled anxiously and attempted to introduce himself. Alas, he was speechless.
So it has been for the Wolverines lately, quiet in the shadow of greatness. Despite top-ranked recruiting classes in 1994 and '95, Michigan has not won an NCAA tournament game the last two years and is still paddling furiously in the tumultuous wake of the Fab Five, which went to the Final Four in '92 and '93. "Following the Fab Five to Michigan is like driving down a road into a dark tunnel and realizing there is no way out the other side," Bullock says. "We need to find another road."
What they really need is a driver with a strong sense of direction. Perhaps he will be junior college transfer Brandun Hughes, who arrived in Ann Arbor this fall and brashly pulled on jersey number 4, Fab Fiver Chris Webber's old number. "Wearing his number is no extra pressure," says Hughes, who averaged 28.2 points per game at Barton County ( Kans.) Community College last season, "especially if I help bring home a national title, something Webber never did."
Michigan fans would like to start with a Big Ten title, something the Wolverines have not won in the last 10 seasons. In pursuit of that crown, Michigan will rely heavily on Bullock, a sophomore who averaged 13.5 points last season. The inside scoring load should be carried by 6'9" forward Maurice Taylor, who is so talented that his 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season constituted a sophomore slump. Sophomore Robert (Tractor) Traylor is also back; he averaged 9.0 points and 5.9 rebounds as a freshman, despite playing just 19 minutes per game because of foul trouble and oxygen deficiency, the latter attributable to the fact that at an estimated 330 pounds, he was not in shape. Responding to taunts of "Dough Boy" from his own teammates, Traylor has worked hard to drop his weight to 300 and decrease his body fat from 24% to 14%.
The roster is also thinner this season. The departure of two potential starters, Willie Mitchell and Albert White, during the off-season left Michigan with its shortest bench since the days of the Fab Five, an era the current Wolverines hope to consign to ancient history. "We're all a little sick and tired of comparisons to the Fab Five," Taylor says, "but, heck, we know that the only way to crawl out from under their shadow is to start doing something fabulous ourselves."