This weekend, Michigan's fabled Fab Five will reunite for the first time since 1993. Begs a great question: In the modern (post-ESPN) era, who is the best college hoops starting five of all time?
(There is an argument to be made that the "modern" era didn't actually start UNTIL the Fab Five arrived. Can you really count the years between ESPN's start and the shot-clock era? How about the 3-point era? How about the 64-team-tournament era? Maybe we should say since '87.)
(1) Michigan 1992-1993: Webber, Rose, Howard, Jackson, King. Not just because they reached national-championship games as freshmen and sophomores, but because of their overall influence on the sport, arguably the most in sports history.
(How influential were they? You could argue that the current "modern" era of college hoops did NOT start with the arrival of ESPN -- but with the arrival of the Fab Five a decade later.)
(2) Florida 2006-2007: Horford, Noah, Brewer, Green, Humphrey. No other starting five of the modern era won two national titles, let alone back-to-back titles. Only the Webber-Howard combo matched Florida's depth of talent in the post.
(3) UNLV 1990: Johnson, Augmon, Anthony, Hunt, Ackles. Not only was UNLV '90 arguably the greatest single-season team of the modern era, but they were so good that the only way Duke could beat them in the Final Four rematch in '91 was because the Running Rebels threw the freaking game.
(4) Kentucky 1996: Anderson, Walker, McCarty, Delk, Epps. Another contender for best single-season team of the modern era, but this team was far more remarkable for its depth than its starting five. Nine players on the roster made the NBA. Ron Mercer came off the bench.
(5) Duke 1992: Laettner, Hurley, G. Hill, T. Hill, Davis. Duke's '91 champ closed their eyes and wished UNLV would find a better offer than another boring beat-down. But Duke's '92 champ was the real deal -- hard to argue with arguably the top PF of this era, arguably the top PG of this era and arguably the top SF of this era... all in one starting lineup.
Remember: I'm not comparing entire teams -- that would probably put UNLV '90 1st, with Kentucky '92 2nd and Florida 06-07 3rd -- but only ranking starting fives. What made the Fab Five so amazing WAS that they all started together.
I remain surprised that no coach -- or, more accurately, no recruits themselves -- have put together as epic of a class since then. (That's always been my dream for Northwestern: "Hey, you five come here, I'll start all of you immediately, you'll be the next Fab Five, you'll take us to the Tournament, then you all can stay as long -- or as little -- as you like.")
You would figure in the one-and-done era, it would be even easier. Maybe recruits want to be THE MAN on their team, but how can they not recognize the brand value of being on Fab Five 2.0? It's not like the original Fab Five went pro immediately -- even Webber stayed for his sophomore year, and King and Jackson even stayed all four years.
Oh, I know why: Do you know how old this year's McDonald's All-American class was when the Fab Five arrived at Michigan? That's a trick question:
They weren't born yet.
Fab Five, I salute you -- in all your baggy-short, black-socks, bald-head, booster-corrupted glory.
The Fab Five and I arrived on Big Ten campuses as freshman during the same fall in 1991. Maybe that is why I feel so attached to them. They were my classmates, in a way. Their swag was like a license for all of us freshmen to say, "Make way."
They were arguably the greatest innovation in the history of the sport, and it is a testament to their cool that their memory remains as relevant and slick today as it was back in 1991.