- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.
Top five NBA draftees since 1989
Sixth man: Mo Taylor (1997)
The rest: Darius Morris, Manny Harris, Ekpe Udoh, Courtney Sims, Chris Hunter, Bernard Robinson, Robert Traylor, Maceo Baston, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Jimmy King, Eric Riley, Demetrius Calip, Terry Mills, Loy Vaught, Rumeal Robinson, Sean Higgins
Why they’re ranked where they are: By the early 1990s, hip-hop had permeated all facets of American society. It was apparent then that the music had gone beyond the audio element and evolved into a burgeoning culture that enveloped the songs that defined the genre.
Within this new domain, athletes became expressions of the art.
Enter the Fab Five.
The baggy shorts, the high-top fades and the overall swagger personified the music. It all magnified their arrival.
Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King reached back-to-back national championship games in 1992 and 1993. But they fell short of the immense hype, in the eyes of some, because they didn’t win a title.
The NBA legacy of this group -- and Michigan as a whole -- is also criticized because the quintet did not make the splash many had anticipated when they all left the program.
Jackson never earned a spot on an NBA roster. King played just 64 games at the next level. Rose, Webber and Howard all had impressive NBA careers. But there is not one first-ballot Hall of Famer among them.
That general assessment of the Fab Five’s (and Michigan’s) NBA success masks this reality: The Wolverines have produced one of the most talented collections of pros since the 1989 draft, the cutoff for our “Path to the Draft” rankings.
Sure, King and Jackson couldn’t match their teammates.
But Rose pushed the Indiana Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals and averaged 25.0 PPG during that series against the Los Angeles Lakers. He also put together this four-season stretch that somehow failed to warrant one All-Star appearance for the Detroit native: 18.2 PPG, 4.0 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 39.3 percent from the 3-point line in 1999-2000; 20.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 5.0 RPG in 2000-2001; 20.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 36.2 from the 3-point line in 2001-02; 22.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.8 APG and 37 percent from the 3-point line in 2002-03. Rose hit more than 80 percent of his free throws during that stretch, too.
Howard, somehow, is still on a pro roster. Yes, he’s the grizzly veteran who seems to play a fatherly role for the Miami Heat more than anything else. It’s not easy to play 18 seasons in the NBA, though. Howard has just one All-Star appearance on his résumé. But he’s averaged 13.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG throughout his career (and shot 47 percent) and was a legit star in the 1990s with Washington.
And then there’s Webber, who some consider a future Hall of Famer. He doesn’t have a title, but the former NBA rookie of the year (1994) was a five-time All-Star.
He never quite achieved “best power forward in the game” status because Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone and others were all making their cases for that title during his tenure. But let’s reconsider C-Webb’s numbers: 20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 48 percent from the field over a 15-year NBA career. Wow.
Webber is arguably the best the player that the Big Ten has produced since 1989. And he was definitely one of the best power forwards in the NBA when he played. The only guys you’d want over Webber -- in his prime -- were perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.
Rose, Webber and Howard have enough street cred to place Michigan in the top-20 conversation.
But there’s also Glen Rice, the sharpshooter who led the program to the 1989 national title. The three-time NBA All-Star hit 40.4 percent of his 3-pointers over his 15-year career. He also averaged 18.8 PPG and hit 85 percent of his free throws. Plus, he won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000.
Jamal Crawford, the 2010 sixth man of the year, averaged 16.5 PPG for the Los Angeles Clippers this season. For the last 12 seasons, Crawford has been a critical player for multiple teams. Mo Taylor had a few big years with the Clippers. Terry Mills hit 38 percent of his 3-pointers over 11 years. Loy Vaught was a beast for a short time with the Clippers in the mid-1990s.
Michigan stands at No. 8 in our “Path to the Draft” rankings because the Wolverines have produced substantive pros who’ve played for 10 or more years in the league.
The Wolverines have one of the most balanced nucleuses among our top 20. Michigan is responsible for a variety of fruitful careers.
The players mentioned throughout our rankings prove that it’s far easier to get into the NBA than it is to stay there. Michigan’s best pros -- the school has produced 22 overall since 1989 -- enjoyed lengthy terms in the NBA. That’s why we’ve given them so much credit.
Why they could be ranked higher: The longevity within this group is impressive. That would be the top criteria to elevate Michigan. Vaught, Taylor and Mills all played for more than a decade in the NBA. The top five were all high-level starters in the league.
We’ve listed other programs that produced more pros. But most of their draftees missed the five-year mark. Production, longevity and overall impact have all been considered throughout these subjective rankings. Michigan has all three.
Why they could be ranked lower: Well, Michigan hasn’t sent many prospects to the NBA over the past decade-plus. That’s a serious drought. The Wolverines are ranked over programs that established strong NBA legacies based on what they accomplished in the past and what they can accomplish in the future with current players in the NBA and other prospects in the pipeline.
Michigan is relying on the past because that’s really all it has to justify its placement in our rankings. Its current rocky stretch might demand a lower ranking. You can’t earn credit for “production” if you’re not consistently “producing,” right?
What’s ahead? The good news is that the future seems bright. Trey Burke, the Wooden Award winner in 2012-13, might crack the top five in this summer’s NBA draft. He has the talent to excel at the next level for many years. Tim Hardaway Jr. could be a first-round pick, too.
And Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary could ultimately crack the lottery in the 2014 NBA draft. Both players had pro potential last season but opted to return to school for another season. John Beilein’s program could give the school’s overall NBA legacy a push in the coming years.
Final thoughts: The Fab Five was a polarizing group. And I think the mixed reviews of its overall impact have fueled negative commentary about the group’s -- and the school’s -- ability to develop future pros. Again, that’s not a fair assessment. First, it neglects the other pros Michigan has produced over the last 20-plus years. And it misjudges the collective careers of three players (Howard, Rose and Webber). The latter trio was far above average. Add Rice, Crawford and a few guys who were standouts for stretches and it’s easy to see why Michigan is No. 8 in our rankings.