Besides being one of the hot new groups that Michigan's Fab Five freshmen like to listen to when they're relaxing together in someone's dorm room, Boyz II Men also explains what has happened to the young Wolverines in the NCAA tournament. When that metamorphosis was suggested to Jalen Rose—Michigan's spiritual leader and its most insolent trash talker—following the Wolverines' thrilling 75-71 overtime win over Ohio State in the Southeast Regional final on Sunday in Lexington, Ky., he smiled, nodded in agreement and said, "Yeah, this team has grown up so much, there's really no holding us back."
There's also no telling Rose and classmates Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King and Chris Webber (average age: 19 years, 28 days) that what they've already done, and might yet still do, is unprecedented, unbelievable and unnerving to anyone who swears by the importance of experience. One of Boyz II Men's hits, It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday, might apply to most college freshmen but not to Rose and his buddies. Saying hello to tomorrow—and to Cincinnati on Saturday in Minneapolis—is all that's at the top of their agenda. "Right now I have a feeling of happiness, because this is a dream come true," Rose said Sunday night, "but it's not satisfaction, because our goal is beyond that."
Don't make the mistake of writing this off as youthful exuberance. Anybody who doesn't yet take Michigan seriously missed the lessons of Lexington. Twice the Wolverines went eyeball-to-eyeball with veteran teams built around All-Americas—Oklahoma State with Byron Houston and Ohio State with Jimmy Jackson—and each time the old guys blinked. On Friday the Wolverines hounded Houston, a senior, into a horrendous finale (two of 14 from the field, eight turnovers). Two days later Jackson committed half of Ohio State's 18 turnovers. Said Jackson, "They grew up, and we were like the team that had never been here before."
Michigan coach Steve Fisher certainly has been, having led the Wolverines to the 1989 title during his first three weeks on the job. But while some of his conference rivals still may not exactly view the 47-year-old Fisher with deference—Ohio State coach Randy Ayers twice pointed at Fisher on Sunday and shouted, "Sit down!"—he deserves credit for having the guts to start five freshmen and the persuasiveness to make his upperclassmen accept it. Senior forward Eric Riley, the No. 2 rebounder in the Big Ten last season, rides the pine behind Webber. Yet Riley has come to accept the role, and he is always ready when called upon for emergency duty. On Friday, with Webber in early foul trouble and limited to 18 minutes before fouling out, Riley contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds.
April 5, 1992
Still, it's the freshmen who are responsible for Michigan's presence in Minneapolis, and each of them has a clearly defined role: The 6'9" Webber, whose voice is as soft as his hands, is the force, the go-to guy; the 6'9" Howard, who sees himself as the most mature of the bunch, works the boards and provides stability; the 6'5" King is a deadly outside shooter; and the 6'6" Jackson provides the kind of outstanding defense he displayed against Houston and Jimmy Jackson. But the catalyst is Rose. He sheepishly admits that while developing his game on the Detroit playgrounds, he became such a vicious talker that he reduced several opponents to tears. "Once they started crying, though, I'd stop," Rose says. "That made me feel kinda bad."
It was Rose who invented the players' preferred moniker, 5X's, and he even came up with a group grip, middle finger crossed over index finger. At 6'8", Rose is so versatile and joyous that he invites comparison to his hero, Magic Johnson. After Webber fouled out against Oklahoma State, Rose kissed him, just as Magic has publicly bussed Isiah Thomas. But Rose became nonplussed when Webber returned the favor just before the overtime with Ohio State. "Yeah, I was a little embarrassed," Rose said, "but it wasn't all mushy or nothing like that."
Asked what he was thinking while lying beneath the pile of Michigan's joyous players after the regional final, Rose said, "Just that my dream had come true—and where are all the nonbelievers?"
Wherever they are, they can start referring to this hot young group as Boyz II Minneapolis.