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February 5, 2013

Fab Five members ready to open discussion with U-M

There was a brief moment at Wednesday night's Mock Rock charity event that, until very recently, would have seemed almost inconceivable. And the fact that it happened at all leads one to believe that change may be just around the corner.

About midway through the program, the night's emcee, ESPN analyst and former member of the Fab Five Jalen Rose, took a break from the show to invite two special guests out on the stage.

He was joined there by junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. and freshman forward Glenn Robinson III. The basketball team does not participate in Mock Rock, because they are too busy preparing for upcoming games.

"The thing we love about you guys the most, is that you're nothing like us," Rose joked. "This guy [Robinson] does a 360 dunk and runs back just like, 'No big deal.' I made one shot, and I'm showboating. And this guy {Hardaway] just shoots threes like layups, coming off screens, coming off defense. I'm so proud of you guys."

The Fab Five was once vaunted for its on-court exploits, once banished for its alleged off-court improprieties. But the seeds of reclamation seem to have been laid. Here, at Mock Rock, Rose and fellow Fab Five member Jimmy King publicly interacted with current members of the squad and voiced their ringing endorsements for the program and head coach John Beilein.

And, in his introductory speech, Rose made a rousing proclamation.

"I am here to tell you, don't be surprised if this team does all of the things we weren't able to do," he said. "I want to make sure that I am joined by Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King and Chris Webber, courtside, watching them cut down the nets this year."

And there's the major kicker: Webber, whom the university was forced to disassociate with for 10 years because of his implication in the Ed Martin scandal. The ban is nearing its end - May 7, 2013 - so the members of the Fab Five are beginning to discuss the possibility of re-involvement with the program.

"The University of Michigan loves us and vice versa," Rose said after the event. "That is never going to go away. How the tribute eventually happens, that's just semantics for me, personally. So many people put sweat equity, time and energy into that era. It was so much bigger than those five players. It was the rest of the guys on the roster, the coaching staff and the fans. The fans made the Fab Five. Yes, we were playing; we were productive; and we were freshman, but there are a lot of teams that do those things that don't have No. 1 documentaries about them 20 years later."

Both he and King said they hoped the Fab Five's two Final Four banners would be, at some point in the future, put back up in the rafters of the Crisler Center.

Rose mentioned Massachusetts all-star Marcus Camby and Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, both of whom accomplished big things at their schools and were later implicated in scandals. After the Massachusetts scandal, the school left up its Final Four banner and later retired Camby's number. Clarett is still acknowledges in Ohio State record books, and the school never vacated its 2003 national title.

"Banners are important, because the symbolize a team's accomplishment," Rose said. "You go to any school across the country, and the things that were special to that program - whether it was a player, a retired number, a tragedy or something positive - whatever they want people to remember when they come into that building, it's symbolized by some sort of banner. The semantics of it, I'm not the person to discuss them. But I do hope there will be a banner acknowledgment for the Fab Five."

"It would mean that all the hard work we put into it was not discarded," added King. "We love the university, and we owe a lot to this school. What we did was proof in how much we cared about our craft and what we wanted to happen for this university.

"We bled, sweat and cried for this university, so we're not going to let it die."

Both King and Rose have built strong relationships with athletic director Dave Brandon, which could be a plus in the discussions that will come in the coming months.

During the interviews for this story, both King and Rose stopped to greet Brandon as he walked by, sharing friendly hugs and kind words.

"I am a huge Dave Brandon fan," Rose said. "Huge, for what he has done for this program. Michigan football started this year in the top 10; basketball was ranked No. 1; more teams are doing very well right now. There is a good thing going right now. And for basketball to be so fractured - and when I mean fractured, I don't mean not getting along. [I mean, lack of involvement between decades].

"There's an interesting dichotomy between football and basketball here. The interesting thing about football vs. basketball is this: what ties these generations together? It's somebody that is still consistently at the university. It started with Bo, he laid it down, and now it permeates through Coach Hoke, who is a Bo disciple. All of the basketball coaches who were here, for the most part, left unceremoniously. There is no tie to keep everyone together. That's why you don't see the players from the 70s or 80s. Or from the 90s

"Look at Michigan State. They have guys out there from 1970 to 2000, out of the floor, celebrating and appreciating what they did. I think we'll get there, and I think Dave will lead us there."

The conversations and debate about how to acknowledge to Fab Five - and whether the banners will go back up - will begin. But Webber must be a part of them.

Both King and Rose seem optimistic that he will be willing to engage in the conversation when the time comes.

"We want to look at Chris and say, 'Why don't you come back? Why don't you embrace it' but at the same time, why won't the university do the same thing?" King said. "With this being a learning institution, I think this can be a great lesson. We may make mistakes, but we can correct them or at least mend relationships.

"It's always been like that. During the course of him being vilified and people pointing the finger at him, he has probably withdrawn a little bit. But when the ban is lifting, I think he will be willing to come back and begin the discussion."

"Life goes on," Rose added. "All of us are just so fortunate, so blessed. I don't want to celebrate because someone's funeral just happened, because you know that is what normally happens. There is a saying, 'People bring flowers to your funeral but won't bring you soup when you're sick.' I just hope it doesn't turn into a situation like that. I want to be there to see it."


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