INDIANAPOLIS – Twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison weren't even born in 1992, the year Michigan's iconic "Fab Five" became the first — and still the only — all-freshman starting lineup to lead a team to the Final Four. The brothers, both rookie guards at the University of Kentucky, familiarized themselves with the famous quintet by watching ESPN's documentary on that team repeatedly.
"Maybe 10 times," Andrew said.
It is, after all, a blueprint of sorts for the Wildcats, who also start five freshmen and now find themselves one win away from becoming just the second such baby-faced team to reach the NCAA Tournament semifinals. It's only fitting, then, that the team left standing in Kentucky's way in tonight's Midwest Regional Final is … Michigan.
The eighth-seeded Cats (27-10) seem to know more about the group from 22 years ago, though, than All-American Nik Stauskas and these second-seeded Wolverines (28-8). It's no disrespect to the current crop, rather a nod to history UK would like to repeat.
"Taking five freshmen to the Final Four, that's amazing," Aaron Harrison said. "Just to go through a season like that and see how hard it is, I really have much more respect for them now — even more than I did before."
It's ironic the Cats would collide with Michigan now, just as they're looking more like the Fab Five than ever. The comparison was popular last summer, when UK coach John Calipari smashed those Wolverines' longstanding record of four McDonald's All Americans in one class by signing six.
But that talk vanished when the preseason No. 1 Wildcats stumbled early, sputtered late and ended the regular season with nine losses. At Saturday's news conference, Calipari asked four of his freshmen who were at the podium with him to raise their hand if the journey had been harder than expected. Andrew Harrison flung both arms into the air.
Still, even after Kentucky's worst loss all year, against a South Carolina team that finished six games below .500, the Cats kept believing. That same night, Aaron Harrison made a bold proclamation.
"We know we can make a run," he said, "and it'll be a great story for everyone to talk about."
Turns out, the slump is where the Fab Five similarities really start. On March 3, 1992, Michigan's record was 17-8. It took time for all five freshmen to find their way into the starting lineup, and the Wolverines' schedule was brutal. They'd lost two in a row, including their second double-digit defeat against rival Ohio State. (UK closed the regular season with a beating at the hands of SEC rival Florida.)
"We took the mentality at that point: It's all about us, and we've gotta make sure we carry the burden of success," Jalen Rose, a member of the Fab Five, told The Courier-Journal earlier this season. "We started to trust each other. No egos were involved. That's the dynamic of a successful team."
That was the same challenge for these Cats.
"The hardest part about playing with all the talent that we have is just figuring each other out, just figuring out how to sacrifice ourselves," said UK freshman All-American Julius Randle. "But the best thing is with what we've been through, we came together, and it just never fazed us."
With three games to go before the NCAA Tournament, the Fab Five got hot. Sound familiar? Kentucky clicked in its three games at the SEC Tournament, roaring into the final where it fell by a single point to the top-ranked Gators. That is the Cats' only loss in the last six games.
Michigan won eight straight in '92, all the way to the national championship game, which it lost. That run was so unprecedented, such a game changer, that UK freshman Dakari Johnson, who was 3 years, 5 months and 16 days away from being born the night the Fab Five played for the title, can name them.
"Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, (Jimmy) King?" he said. "And I forgot the last guy."
With a nudge, he remembers. "Yeah, Ray Jackson."
Johnson isn't interested in comparisons but can't deny "it is unique that it's us five freshmen, basically with no experience, hanging in, in close ballgames with top teams."
With a win tonight, Kentucky will have taken out three consecutive top-10 teams from the last Associated Press poll — No. 2 Wichita State, No. 5 Louisville and No. 7 Michigan. That's also three-quarters of last year's Final Four.
These kiddie Cats are trying to become just the fifth No. 8 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Among those, only Villanova won it all. Kentucky is also keenly aware that the Fab Five failed to finish the job.
"That's what we're aiming for," sophomore sixth man Alex Poythress said. "Hopefully we can one-up them."
That Michigan team will likely always have an edge in the cool department. With its on-court bravado, shaved heads, baggy shorts, black sneakers and black socks, the Fab Five was a bona fide cultural phenomenon. These Cats would settle for being remembered not as a disappointment, which seemed certain three weeks ago, but as winners.
"If we can be anything compared to those guys or remembered like those guys, it would be a terrific honor. But that's just kind of hard to do," said Randle, who leads the nation with 23 double-doubles. "It's a pretty amazing story just to see what they've done, how they were trendsetters and how they moved the game of basketball.
"But we can't worry about comparing ourselves to the Fab Five … to what somebody's done in history. We're trying to make our own history."