The Michigan Wolverines, 8-0 for first time since '06-'07, are bringing a roar back to Ann Arbor. The maize and blue haven't accomplished anything of national prominence since 1996. The well-produced Fab Five 30 for 30 documentary was the last time Michigan basketball was on the nation's lips. Watching a game, it's difficult not to see vivid flashbacks of a Fab Fiver giving it to somebody. They were the original chest bump. That was 19 years ago and we all know what has transpired in the aftermath.
Since embattled head coach Steve Fisher left the program in 1997 because of the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan is 270-220. That ain't cool…for whatever reason. The current head coach, John Beilein, owns 99 of those victories and 77 losses. The program has a fresh aura in part because of Beilein. His intricate offense (think the triangle on the collegiate level) and attention to patience and discipline is changing the style, but, if the talent weren’t present, Beilein would be just another good coach.
The roster jumps off the page with familiar names: Tim Hardaway Jr. (son of Tim), Glenn Robinson III (son of the Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson) and Jon Horford (son of Tito and brother of Al). Famous fathers and siblings we know, but can they rock? An undefeated start answers a resounding yes. This is the best Michigan team since the mid-nineties (RIP Tractor Traylor).
Hardaway Jr. and freshman Glenn Robinson III are the most skilled of the three. Hardaway Jr. is a former soccer player, and at 6'6" and 193 pounds, the shooting guard has a decent stroke, ball handling and slashing skill set. Much different than his father, Hardaway Jr. has a more chill temperament. His game is totally different than his Pop's, too. He's not as explosive, but gets it done in other ways. He’s one of those underrated sneaky scorers that will get a lot better as he matures. He was the MVP of the preseason NIT and had 23 points in the title game win vs. an undefeated Kansas State team. Putting up 15.6 points a game, he was named Big Ten Player of the Week (11/12), but of course, any comparisons to Tim Sr., a 5 time All Star, 14-year NBA player are unfair. Don't even say anything about a crossover please. He was straight fire and outspoken off the court as well.
The architect of the "UTEP Two step" was hard on his son. Fathers want the best for their kids, and when talent is there, we don't want to see it go unrealized. "I wanted him to play like I had played, to take the game seriously like I took the game seriously, understand the game like I understood the game," Tim Sr. said. "I had to step back and really understand that I was tearing up my household, tearing him up. I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to be a dad." The only way for Hardaway Jr. to show the world he is his own man is to explode this season and help Michigan go deep in March. There have been some inconsistencies in his game since he signed at Michigan just like any talent, but his potential has never been questioned.
The other son of an above average talented NBA father is Robinson III. GR3 is a 6'6", 210-pound athletic forward enrolled in the School of Kinesiology. The study of his human movement will be what UM supporters will do closely during his Michigan career. His Pop was a 20-point per game career NBA scorer, the 1994 Big Ten Player of the Year at Purdue and put up 37 in a win vs. the Fab Five. He made a lot of NBA money and is known for asking for a 100 million dollar rookie contract just as much as his game.
Robinson III is talented enough to follow in his Dad's footsteps sans the money. He is Michigan's wildcard. The kid analysts will say, "He's no longer a freshman" during March Madness when he does something spectacular. The one to throw oops to who also shoots it with range. He’s averaging 11.6 points and 6.8 boards so far this year, and as with Hardaway Jr., there is a different fire than his father's. He's also more reserved. It's like Hardaway Sr. and Glenn Robinson Jr. hungered so their sons would benefit. Both were more intense and intimidated opponents when they got off the bus. Yes, their sons have benefited, but have also worked hard themselves.
Jon Horford rounds out the Michigan sons of NBA fame. He's a 6'10", 250-pound sophomore forward who hasn't yet come into his own (missed 25 games last season with a foot injury), but could explode. He's not as athletic as his father or his brother and more of a worker who could turn NBA heads by battling every second on the floor. He’s averaging 2.7 points and 3.6 boards so far. Jon put on 30 pounds coming into this season mainly working out with Al. They are close and because they are not that separated in age, Jon leans heavily on his brother.
“We literally talk two to three times a day," Al Horford, 24, told Fox News Latino. "He just stays calling me, asking me questions about everything, about school and questions about basketball and things like that. I’ve been helping him out as much as I can with all of that. Since I went through that experience, I can help him out a lot with that.”
Jon does know what it takes to win – having contributed to a Michigan team securing the Big Ten title last season. His newly acquired beef down low will be needed when UM needs that rebound, put back, or outlet to the horses on the break. His father Tito was the first Dominican player in the NBA. Tito was definitely talented and one who could have been an all time great, but never put it together. He bounced around at a few programs in college and was drafted in the second round of the '88 draft – mainly because didn't commit himself to loving the game for whatever reason. He played in Milwaukee from '88-'90 and Washington for a very short time in '93. He was a monster around the basket, but the only reason we are saying his name is because of his sons. Maybe that is the lesson Jon will use to develop into an NBA prospect. The red shirt soph has the time.
Guard Jordan Dumars, son of legendary Pistons guard and current Detroit GM Joe Dumars, was also a member of the Wolverines program (though he never played a minute), but left in ‘11 after a rash of injuries.
Of course, Michigan has other players. Trey Burke is one of the best players in the nation and shooters are everywhere on the floor and on the bench. Burke will make Michigan special in March because the ball will be in his hands when the clock winds down. He'll look to score or dish to the aforementioned.
Many wonder if Michigan is overrated. They came out of the box with a lofty number 3 ranking and will be examined as conference games begin. Cody Zeller and Indiana University will be their biggest test in the Big Ten, and the games vs. the Hoosiers will be nationally televised.
The story line of Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Jon Horford will be repeated in every telecast. The true story will be how these three perform. Are they just names fans can relate to or are they the real deal? If the past truly affects the future, one day, they'll all be in the NBA and potentially raising sons looking up to their fathers and proud of their names.