- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It was one of those Tense moments for which Michigan's five heralded freshmen supposedly would be unprepared. The Wolverines trailed Duke, last season's national champion and this season's top-ranked team, by five points with less than 10 minutes left in the second half last Saturday when forward Chris Webber, the most fabulous of the Fab Five, came down with a defensive rebound. As Blue Devil defenders slapped at the ball, Webber's reaction spoke volumes: He broke into a grin so wide that his mouthpiece almost popped out. Then he casually flipped the ball to a teammate.
The smile seemed to be a message for Duke, a way of letting the Blue Devils know that Webber and his precocious teammates would not be easily rattled. It also may have been a smile for all those hoops skeptics who had expected Duke to teach the young Wolverines a thing or two about humility.
"I was just having a little fun," Webber said later. "I mean, some people seemed to think we'd come in with our knees shaking against Duke. Maybe some young teams would, but we're not that way. I've been telling people and telling people, We're not really freshmen."
They're certainly not ordinary freshmen. Webber, a forward, and his classmates—center Juwan Howard, forward Ray Jackson and guards Jimmy King and Jalen Rose—proved that fact against Duke, even though Michigan ultimately fell to the Blue Devils 88-85 in overtime. By the time Duke escaped from Ann Arbor with its ranking intact and record unblemished, the best-freshman-class-ever label, with which the Michigan newcomers had been saddled, was more than mere hyperbole. In their first exposure to elite college competition, the Fab Five proved they are as good as advertised.
Each of the freshmen, but particularly Webber and Rose, has a brashness that comes with a youthfulness that has rarely known defeat. They spent most of the early season, during which they ran up a 4-0 record against outmanned opponents, making it clear that they were not the slightest bit intimidated by the impending matchup with the Blue Devils, even as Duke, now 5-0, was trouncing highly regarded St. John's on Dec. 5. "I'm sick and tired of hearing how good Duke is," Webber said just two days before the Wolverines met the Blue Devils.
Webber had reason to be self-confident. At only 18, he is a rock-solid 6'9" and 240 pounds. He was superb against Duke, with 27 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots in 39 minutes, and was even more of a force than the Blue Devils' All-America center, Christian Laettner, who had 24 points and eight rebounds in 37 exhausting minutes. By the time Webber fouled out—1:12 into overtime, with the score tied—it was obvious that only five games into his college career he had become a star. He nearly won the game at the end of regulation when he heaved the ball from beyond midcourt and it hit the front of the rim. Had it gone in, adoring Michigan fans might have retired his number on the spot.
Webber also has star quality. He can be a smiling terror in the mold of former UNLV star Larry Johnson, and when Webber's not grinning, he's usually talking. "I told Christian, "I'm not Shaquille [O'Neal], I'm not Alonzo [Mourning],' " Webber said, referring to two top centers whom Laettner had outplayed. " 'I'm Chris, and now you've got me to worry about.' "
Michigan's top three scorers against Duke—Webber, Rose (18 points, six assists) and King (15 points)—led the Wolverines back from a 17-point first-half deficit. Michigan made up most of that with an exhilarating 14-0 run in the second half. It ended with a Webber dunk that put the home team ahead 57-56, the Wolverines' first lead since 2-0.
After a ragged first half, the 6'8" Rose was almost as impressive as Webber was for the entire game. He scored all his points in the second half and spent much of his time at point guard, helping the Wolverines handle Duke's intense defensive pressure, which had bothered Michigan early in the game. "He was big enough to look over the top and make the pass when we'd try to trap," Krzyzewski said. "He'll cause matchup problems for a lot of teams."