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There may be no recruiting class in the history of college basketball more well-known than the Michigan Wolverines’ famed “Fab Five” squad that appeared in two consecutive NCAA Tournament title games in the early ’90s.

Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson changed the landscape of college basketball when they came to Ann Arbor in 1991. While the group didn’t win either of those national title games, their impact on the game will not be forgotten. While it’s now commonplace for freshmen to make an immediate difference, that really wasn’t the case back in the day.

But then-Michigan head coach Steve Fisher recognized the Fab Five’s talent. While he initially hesitated to start all five as freshmen in 1991-92, he eventually acquiesced. The move obviously paid off as the group led the Wolverines to the Final Four in the 1992 NCAA Tournament — a run that began with a first-round matchup against Temple.

Now, for those unaware, one of Temple’s most famous alumni is Bill Cosby, who back in the early ’90s wasn’t yet a convicted felon but simply a standup comedian and the star of one of the most-watched television shows in the country, The Cosby Show.

The four-time Emmy winner was extremely excited about his alma mater squaring off with Michigan’s Fab Five in the NCAA Tournament. Cosby contacted the team before the game to express that excitement. Fisher saw this as a way to motivate his team but took things further by creating a lie to give his Wolverines more motivation. When Michigan reached the Final Four, he had to come clean.

The Michigan Wolverines’ ‘Fab Five’ took college basketball by storm in 1991-92

When the “Fab Five” first came to the Michigan Wolverines in 1991, Steve Fisher started only three of them: Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Juwan Howard. After a time, Jimmy King joined the starting lineup as well. In the Wolverines’ 19th game of the season, Steve Fisher did the unthinkable and added Ray Jackson to the starting five, too.

In that matchup against Notre Dame on February 9, 1992, Michigan came out on top, 74-65. The “Fab Five” accounted for every single point the Wolverines scored that day. The team finished the regular season with a 20-8 record, certainly much better than the 14-15 mark of their previous season. They earned a No. 6 seed in the Southeast Region of the 1992 NCAA Tournament, setting up a matchup with John Chaney’s 11th-seeded Temple Owls.

Bill Cosby sent a fax to the Michigan Wolverines before their first-round game vs. Temple in the 1992 NCAA Tournament

Ahead of the Michigan Wolverines‘ first-round matchup with Temple in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, Bill Cosby sent a fax to Steve Fisher telling him how excited he was to watch his alma mater play against the “Fab Five,” for whom he had a lot of respect.

Fisher used this as an opportunity to motivate his team. He added his own paragraph to the end of the letter, which stated that if the Wolverines could defeat the Owls and get all the way to the Final Four, Cosby would have the “Fab Five” on The Cosby Show as guest stars.

Michigan defeated Temple, 73-66, with the “Fab Five” accounting for all but seven points in the victory. The Wolverines then beat 14th-seeded Tennessee State — who’d surprised No. 3 Arizona in the opening round — before knocking off second-seeded Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16. This set up an Elite Eight matchup with top-seeded rival Ohio State.

Steve Fisher had to confess to his lie when the ‘Fab Five’ reached the Final Four

Led by Big Ten Player of the Year and All-American Jim Jackson, Ohio State was the top seed in the Southeast Region of the 1992 NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes had beaten the Michigan Wolverines twice in the regular season, both times by double digits.

But this Elite Eight matchup would be different as Michigan hung with their rivals the entire way and earned a hard-fought 75-71 overtime victory. Four of the “Fab Five” scored in double digits, led by Chris Webber‘s 23. For the first time in three years, the Wolverines earned a spot in the Final Four.

Now, during this historic run, the “Fab Five” were still under the impression that if they reached the Final Four, they’d get to appear on The Cosby Show. So once Michigan disposed of Ohio State, the team chanted “Cosby Show! Cosby Show!” in the locker room, as seen in the Fab Five documentary on ESPN. And it was at this point that Steve Fisher had to confess to his lie.

The Michigan Wolverines defeated Cincinnati in the national semifinal before losing to Duke in the NCAA title game.

Stats courtesy of Sports Reference


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