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Michigan basketball's John Beilein says university will eventually honor 'Fab Five' team

'Fab Five' Michigan basketball team of the early 1990s.
'Fab Five' Michigan basketball team of the early 1990s.

SAN ANTONIO – As the Michigan Wolverines prepare to possibly add a national championship banner, many are asking: what about the Fab Five?

The 1990s Michigan Wolverines team, dubbed the "Fab Five," has a complicated relationship with the University of Michigan.

Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Jimmy King - the five players in the starting group - took the college basketball world by storm during their run in the early 1990s.

In 2002, the university vacated the team's two Final Four trips and 113 wins after an investigation revealed payments to players, including to the Fab Five's Chris Webber.

"We love the Fab Five, and we continue to reach out to the Fab Five and that team," Michigan head coach John Beilein told the media on Sunday. "It wasn't just five guys on that team, now. That was a team of champions as well. ... When you have the NCAA violations in there, that's a time that it takes some time to heal. But I'm looking forward to the times when we get everybody in that group together and all of that isn't under our control, if you understand that."

Earlier this year, Beilein expressed hope that Fab Five head coach Steve Fisher would be welcomed back.

It was Fisher who led the Wolverines to the 1989 national championship, then brought together the Fab Five for two more runs to the title game before becoming persona non grata around the school’s Ann Arbor campus following a scandal that led to his firing more than two decades ago.

“Steve and I have been friends, ever since he was the Michigan coach,” said Beilein, who has led the Wolverines since the 2007-08 season. “He’s gone out of his way over and over again for me, when I’m on the road traveling, with the Nike trips. We’ve spent a lot of time together.”

Asked whether he thinks a reunion could happen, he replied: “I know that’s in the plans.”

Beilein wouldn’t elaborate beyond saying, “I’d rather keep it right there.” But he was clearly pleased that the question was even broached, offering him an opportunity to discuss his longtime friend and the role he might play in a program that will be forever tied to him.

Fisher had spent nearly a decade coaching high schools, and a few years as an assistant at Western Michigan, when he was hired in 1982 as an assistant for the Wolverines. He continued in that role until 1989, when Bill Frieder was fired on the eve of the NCAA Tournament for taking the Arizona State job.

Fisher denied any knowledge of the misconduct but was swept up in the fallout, though the NCAA ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing other than allowing booster access to his players.

Still, the vacated wins and championships made Fisher a college basketball pariah for years, and certainly did not sit well at Michigan. He kept many supporters, of course, but many more turned on him, even after he took the San Diego State job and built another winning program.

Twice he took the Aztecs to the Sweet 16, winning more than 30 games each of those seasons.

Fisher wound up winning nearly 400 games, not counting those that were vacated, before handing Dutcher a loaded roster prior to this season. Many believe that should be enough for the Hall of Fame, but Fisher was left off the list of 13 finalists when it was announced last month.

Perhaps being welcome back by the school where he shot to stardom would help his cause.

“He’s a close friend and he did a fantastic job,” Beilein said, “and we’re always thinking about how we can bring former coaches and players back. He’s been coaching at San Diego State, so he hasn’t been able to come back for any reunions, but that’s something we hope for in future.”

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