At 14, Rose, Webber mapped Mich. dream FLOOR PLANS

April 01, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

The making of Michigan's 1992 Final Four team took root five years ago in a hotel lobby in Seattle. As Jalen Rose tells it, that was where he and Chris Webber struck a deal to one day become college teammates.

At the time, they were 14 and in eighth grade.

Of such foresight are budding dynasties born.

Rose and Webber became teammates at Michigan last fall, joining three fellow high school All-Americans in Ann Arbor, in one of the greatest recruiting coups ever. Together they became the "Fab Five," a precocious group of freshman starters who took the Southeast Regional by storm -- and much of the country by surprise -- last weekend.

Freshmen aren't supposed to make much noise in the spectacle that is the NCAA tournament. Yet here they are, headed to Minneapolis for the Final Four, intent on making history.

In what seems to be a Cinderella matchup in Saturday's national semifinals, the 24-8 Wolverines, seeded sixth in the Southeast, will play a 29-4 Cincinnati team that was seeded fourth in the Midwest. But the Wolverines don't seem surprised to be still playing.

"It was a reality from Day One," Rose said of the Final Four. "We knew we had the talent to get there. Now it's become a reality to you [reporters]."

Rose stopped short of saying he and Webber planned all this back in 1987. But they apparently did draw up the framework for it.

The two met while playing AAU ball in Detroit in sixth grade. Rose said he used to tease Webber "about being tall and uncoordinated." Still, they grew to be close friends.

Two years later, Webber's parents decided to send him to a private school, Country Day. Rose was headed to Southwestern High, a public school. On a 1987 AAU trip to Seattle they hatched the plan to attend the same college.

By the time they became high school seniors, they likely could have attended any college. Webber helped Country Day win three state championships -- two in Class B and one in Class C -- and was Mr. Basketball in Michigan as a senior. Rose helped Southwestern win back-to-back Class A state titles. The question was where they would go.

At Michigan, coach Steve Fisher already had made major recruiting strides by signing Juwan Howard out of Chicago, and Jimmy King and Ray Jackson out of Texas (King was Mr. Basketball in Texas). Closer to home, Fisher added Rose's coach at Southwestern High, Perry Watson, to the Michigan coaching staff last June. And then he wound up with both Webber and Rose.

As a freshman class, it was nothing less than sensational.

"They are as good a class as I've ever seen," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, whose Cowboys lost to Michigan in a Southeast semifinal last Friday. "What impresses me the most about them is how unselfish they are. And that's a credit to Steve and his staff in helping them to mature and grow. Those guys have adjusted to not all being stars and averaging 20 points a game. They have proved they can play with anyone in the country."

Webber, 6 feet 9, who has started every game, averages 15.6 points and 9.9 rebounds. Rose, a 6-8 guard, started all but one game and leads the team in scoring average at 17.9. Howard, a 6-9 center, has started 29 of 32 games and averages 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Since King and Jackson became starters late in the season, the Fab Five has won 11 of 13, including the past seven. The players may be the only ones not surprised by Michigan's success.

"The programs we came from allowed us to have good fundamentals," said Webber. "You don't just luck up to be a good freshman. I look at it as five stars shining together as a group, like UNLV."

Said Jackson: "I wouldn't have come to Michigan if I thought we wouldn't succeed. I didn't know the other four players, but once I saw some of them, I knew we would be good."

How good is yet to be answered. Asked last week in Lexington, Ky., whether they expected to win four national championships, each responded in the affirmative. Confidence, obviously, is not one of their shortcomings.

There is more than flash and -- in their style, though. The Wolverines are tough on defense, limiting the opposition to 41.4 percent field-goal shooting. Only five teams have shot better than 50 percent against Michigan.

Webber and Rose are the leaders of this talented group. Both came up big in Sunday's 75-71 overtime win against Ohio State to earn a Final Four berth. Rose, averaging 20.7 for four regional games, was voted the Southeast's most outstanding player.

They showed a sense of purpose in Lexington, where Rose talked openly about Michigan's grand dream.

"There is pressure on us because we put pressure on ourselves," Rose said. "This is a unique group. We're only freshmen once, and we want to do the best we can because we'll never be freshmen again."

Now that the Fab Five has dawned on the nation's basketball consciousness, Rose knows that no ensuing Final Four could be as much fun as the first one.

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