Michigan Basketball: Creating the Ultimate 12-Man Wolverines Team Ever

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMay 30, 2012

Michigan Basketball: Creating the Ultimate 12-Man Wolverines Team Ever

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    Michigan basketball looks to be poised for an outstanding 2012-13 season, but current stars such as Trey Burke have a long way to go before they deserve to be mentioned among the all-time Wolverine greats. Ann Arbor has seen 41 future NBA players in its rich history, many of whom belong among the most explosive athletes ever to step on a collegiate court.

    Any discussion of the Wolverines' hoops elite has to start with the legendary Fab Five. The extraordinary recruiting class that led Michigan to back-to-back national title games went on to play a combined 48 NBA seasons—most from the elite trio of Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber.

    Herein, a look at those Fab Fivers and the rest of the all-time Dream Team for the Maize and Blue, from the last two players on the end of the bench to the intimidating starting five.

12. Bench: Juwan Howard (1991-94)

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    Despite being the third-best player on his own team, Fab Fiver Juwan Howard is still too good to leave off of this list.

    The 6’9” PF averaged as many as 20.8 points and 8.9 rebounds a game for the Wolverines, and in his three seasons he totaled 1,526 points (18th in school history) and 745 rebounds (11th).

    Howard also has the advantage (especially compared to some older Michigan post players) of a terrific NBA career, highlighted by an All-Star appearance with Washington.

    His recent performances off the Miami bench are a far cry from the 22.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game he averaged in his best seasons.

11. Bench: Jalen Rose (1991-94)

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    He was never quite the point guard he thought he was, but 6'8" Jalen Rose still gave the Fab Five an outstanding perimeter game to go with its unstoppable big men.

    The team’s leading assist man (401 for his career, seventh in school history), he put up more impressive numbers as a scorer: 19.9 points a game as a junior to cap a career in which he totaled 1,788 points (eighth-best for a Wolverine all-time).

    Rose’s pro career followed a similar trajectory, though he was occasionally more successful as a distributor than he had been in college (6.2 assists per game for the Nuggets in his second pro season).

    As a scorer, he was a terrific weapon who put up six straight seasons of 15-plus points per game for the Pacers, Bulls and Raptors.

10. Backup PG: Gary Grant (1984-88)

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    Gary Grant scored 2,222 points in four years in Ann Arbor, and they don’t even have anything to do with his place on this list. Grant holds the Wolverines’ records with 731 assists and 300 steals in his career, both by huge margins over second place.

    A draft-night trade sent Grant to the ever-cursed Clippers, for whom he initially seemed to fulfill his collegiate promise with averages peaking at 13.1 points, 10 assists and 2.5 steals per game over his first four seasons.

    He couldn't sustain that success, though, and quickly faded into obscurity on various benches around the league.

9. Backup SG: Louis Bullock (1995-99)

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    Louis Bullock didn’t do a whole lot for the Wolverines besides shoot the basketball, but few could match his scoring ability.

    Bullock’s 2,224 points (vacated in the Ed Martin booster scandal) are the third-most in Michigan history, and he obliterated the school record with 339 three-pointers made.

    Despite his extraordinary college stats, Bullock couldn’t overcome another crucial number: 6’1” as a shooting guard. He was drafted in the second round by Minnesota but never appeared in the NBA (though he’s still playing in Europe).

8. Backup SF: Mike McGee (1977-81)

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    No Wolverine in history has taken as many shots as Mike McGee, but the 6’5” swingman made them count. His 2,439 points, a school record at the time, are still the second-highest total for any Wolverine ever (even in the absence of a three-point shot).

    McGee was drafted by the Showtime Lakers, allowing him to win two NBA titles at the cost of limited playing time. Even in his best individual season, though, he averaged a pedestrian 13 points a game as a part-time starter for the Nets.

7. Backup PF: Bill Buntin (1962-65)

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    A rock-solid 6’7”, 250 lbs, Bill Buntin provided the interior muscle for Michigan’s first two Final Four teams in 1964 and 1965.

    Buntin averaged 21.8 points a game (fourth-best in school history) and he’s one of just two Wolverines ever to top 1,000 rebounds.

    In spite of the promise he showed as a Pistons rookie—7.7 points and six rebounds per game in a reserve role—Buntin played only one NBA season. Two years after his career ended, he suffered a fatal heart attack in a pickup game at the age of 26.

6. Backup C: Roy Tarpley (1982-86)

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    As strong as Roy Tarpley’s all-around game was—and he notched career highs of 19 points and 10.4 boards per game—it’s his defense that sets him apart in Michigan’s crowded low-post history.

    The 6’11” center used his length to full advantage, blocking a school-record 251 shots in four seasons.

    Substance abuse problems ruined Tarpley’s promising NBA career. In the best of his six seasons with Dallas, he averaged 13.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game to claim Sixth Man of the Year honors in 1987-88.

5. Starting PG: Rumeal Robinson (1987-90)

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    Rumeal Robinson put up solid numbers in three seasons as a Wolverine—including the school’s best career assist average, 5.75 per game—but it’s his postseason performance that earns him the starting nod here.

    He led Michigan to its only national title with one of history’s most extraordinary displays of clutch shooting: with three seconds remaining in overtime in the championship game and his team down a point to Seton Hall, the 66 percent foul shooter nailed two free throws for the win.

    Robinson was a well-traveled backup as a pro, and not an especially effective one either. In his lone season as his team’s primary starter, he averaged 13 points and 5.5 assists a game as a Hawk.

4. Starting SG: Cazzie Russell (1963-66)

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    Michigan has seen its share of impressive pure scorers, but none could match the performance of Cazzie Russell.

    The only Wolverine to break 2,000 points in three seasons, the 6’5” Russell averaged a school-record 27.1 points per game in a career that saw him lead his team to two Final Fours.

    Like college rival Bill Bradley, Russell's scoring dropped off sharply when he joined the balanced Knicks offense as a pro.

    He won the 1970 championship in New York, but his best individual seasons came with the Warriors, for whom he averaged as many as 21.4 points a game and earned an All-Star nod.

3. Starting SF: Glen Rice (1985-89)

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    One of the best pure shooters in basketball history, Glen Rice was the go-to scorer (and Final Four MOP) for the 1989 national champs.

    His 25.6 points a game that season capped a career in which he narrowly eclipsed Mike McGee’s school record with 2,442 points.

    Rice, whose 48.04 percent three-point accuracy is second-best in Michigan history by .04 percentage points, spent most of his pro career as a designated long-range gunner.

    He made three straight All-Star teams as a Hornet—shooting at least .424 from beyond the arc each year—and even his much-maligned stint with the Lakers did bring him a championship ring in 2000.

2. Starting PF: Rudy Tomjanovich (1967-70)

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    Of all the extraordinary big men in Michigan history, none can match the career performance of Rudy Tomjanovich. The 6’8” PF holds the school record with 1,039 rebounds, and his average of 25.1 points per game is the second-best in program history.

    Tomjanovich spent his entire playing career with the Rockets, the franchise he would later coach to two NBA titles. He made five All-Star teams as a player, averaging as many as 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a night.

1. Starting C: Chris Webber (1991-93)

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    Chris Webber played just two seasons at Michigan (both vacated in the Ed Martin scandal), but he became as big a star as any Ann Arbor has ever seen.

    He was the emotional leader of a Fab Five squad that made two national title games in as many tries, and he posted career averages of 17 points, 10 rebounds (the school’s best of the last 30 years) and a Wolverine-record 2.5 blocks per contest.

    Webber went on to a scintillating pro career in which he established himself as one of history’s best-passing big men and played in five All-Star games.

    He’s the only Wolverine ever to be named first-team All-NBA (with the Kings in 2000-01), thanks to averages of 27.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.