College Basketball ’92
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ Last season they were the Fab Five. Now they are Super Sophs. But the Michigan Wolverines really just want to be called champions.
Their names are Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
As freshmen, they took Michigan into the NCAA title game where they were defeated by Duke. Now they are sophomores. A year older, stronger and wiser. And they’re hungry.
″It will be interesting,″ coach Steve Fisher said. ″We are no longer the team doing the chasing. We now have the bone. Everybody’s going after the top dog.″
Fisher engineered the Wolverines’ last NCAA championship, taking over in 1989 after then-athletic director Bo Schembechler fired Bill Frieder on the eve of the tournament. Winning then was a surprise. Failing to win now might also be unexpected.
″We’re going to have a good team. I think everybody knows that,″ Fisher said. ″The question is: How good? Hopefully, we’ll be better at the end, with the end results.″
There were some who felt Michigan’s weak nonconference schedule left the Wolverines a tad unprepared for the rigors of the Big Ten. It might also account for the fact that their 25-9 overall record included two defeats at the hands of Duke.
So this season, more fiber has been added to the schedule. The Wolverines open at Rice on Dec. 1 and will play a rematch of the national championship game on Dec. 5 when they visit Duke.
In addition, the Wolverines host Iowa State at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Dec. 19 and compete in Hawaii’s Rainbow Classic during the Christmas Holidays. Teams in the Rainbow include Kansas, North Carolina, Nebraska, Fordham, Jackson State, Southwestern Louisiana and Hawaii.
Michigan also hosts Notre Dame at Ann Arbor in January.
″Playing a difficult schedule will help us become the very best team we can be,″ Fisher said. ″It means we will be ready for the NCAA tournament next March.″
The key to Michigan’s run last year was depth. And the Wolverines appear to have a strong bench again. The top nine scorers from last season’s team return, including all five starters.
″We should be pretty deep from front court to back court, and 1-9 have all started,″ Fisher said. ″They all got some quality time last year.
″It would be difficult for a team to have three better big guys. We feel pretty good about what we’ve got. But it’s all relative to what other teams feel they’ve got.″
The reserves include fifth-year senior James Voskuil, Rob Pelinka, Michael Talley and Eric Riley, a 7-footer who has put on 20 much-needed pounds. Riley played his biggest game of the season against Oklahoma State during the drive to the Final Four.
With Webber and Howard both in foul trouble, Riley scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
″I didn’t understand how the strength from the added weight would help me,″ Riley said. ″But I’m feeling the effects now. It’s a big difference.″
The problem, of course, is to keep these high-spirited thoroughbreds focused. Already their heads are being turned by talk that Webber and Rose might jump to the NBA after this season.
It will be Fisher’s job to keep their eyes on the prize. He knows it won’t be easy.
″Things never stay the same,″ Fisher said. ″It was a novelty last year. And we had a grace period. I knew that. Maybe this year a mistake or turnover won’t be tolerated.
″We had a team last year that truly liked one another. I think that chemistry will be there this year. At least I hope it will. I don’t think you have to worry about us resting on our laurels. Part of that is my problem, to not let it happen.″
Webber, the only one to start all 34 games last season, is probably the key. The 6-9, 240-pound power forward was the team’s second-leading scorer with 15.5 points per game and became the first freshman to lead the Big Ten in rebounding, averaging 9.8 per game. He also led the conference in steals.
″We just want to do what we have to do,″ Webber said. ″We want to win.″
Rose, a 6-8 guard cut from the Magic Johnson mold, led the team with 597 points last season, a freshman single-season record.
″We always have high expectations,″ Rose said. ″We push ourselves harder than anybody else.″
Perhaps it was Howard, the 6-9, 242-pound center, who put it best.
″We have no weakness. We’re strong from coach down to managers,″ he said.
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee anything. The snow will fall, teams will show up and play the games, and the NCAA will compile its field come March. And the Final Four will gather in New Orleans.
″We may never get there again,″ Fisher said. ″Or, we may be like Duke and go all the way. So, who knows? Look at Kansas last year. That was a Final Four team if ever I saw one. Crazy things happen in the tournament.
″Of course we’d like to get back to the Final Four. We want it all.″
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