ANN ARBOR, Mich.
Ray Jackson was a sophomore the last time Michigan was ranked No. 1 in the country.
Now, two decades after the Fab Five went to back-to-back Final Fours, Jackson is ready to tell any remaining doubters how impressed he is with this seasons Wolverines.
Everybody has been calling me and asking if were for a real, and I keep saying, Yes, were for real, said Jackson, who lives in Texas now. It brings back good memories.
Michigan has the nations attention now, after moving to the top of The Associated Press poll Monday for the first time since Jackson and his other Fab Five teammates were ranked there during the 1992-93 season. Theres no telling how long the Wolverines will remain at No. 1 a brutal Big Ten schedule could knock them off that perch at any moment. But this rise is a source of obvious pride.
The different ways the program has grown, with a lot of support from a lot of people from the regents to the president to our athletic directors, said coach John Beilein, who took over in 2007. This is what happens, when you really do the right things to prepare your team to put them in this position, and then you have to have a lot of luck.
Michigan did catch a bad break Sunday night, when forward Jordan Morgan sprained his right ankle in a win at Illinois. His status for tonights game against Northwestern is uncertain.
The Big Ten offers few chances for a breather. After hosting Northwestern, the Wolverines (19-1) will play at No. 3 Indiana next weekend. Then, theyll host Ohio State next week a rematch against the only team to beat them so far.
Still, Michigan has been turning heads all season to the point that even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo offered his grudging respect Monday.
If I had a vote, Id have to vote them No. 1 even though its your rival, Izzo said. Who wants to do that? But I also have respect for what theyve accomplished and what theyve done.
The Fab Five lost in the national title game in 1992 and 1993 before Chris Webber left early to go to the NBA, but banners from those seasons were removed from Michigans home arena. A federal investigation revealed that a booster gave Webber and three non-Fab Five players more than $600,000 while they were student-athletes, and the NCAA forced the school to dissociate from them until 2013. The dissociation with Webber cant end until May 8, so for the rest of this season, most of the focus will be on Beilein and the current players:
Trey Burke decided to stay for his sophomore year instead of going to the NBA, and hes developed into perhaps the top point guard in the country.
Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and freshman Glenn Robinson III are other standouts for what has turned out to be a smart, unselfish team.
We are excited about the ranking; dont get me wrong, Hardaway said. Its great for our fan base, and its great for the University of Michigan. We just want to do a great job of just staying in the moment just do what we can to get better as a team each and every day.
Thats Beileins main message for his players. As the attention grows and the games become bigger, the Wolverines are hoping little will change about the way theyre playing.
We have to put it in perspective and say to them, How did we get here? Beilein said. Did we get here because we were obsessed with being No. 1, or did we just get here because we worked hard every day? Well if that worked so far, then lets just keep doing exactly what we were doing.