Comparing Duke basketball freshman class to Michigan’s Fab Five

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Duke basketball

Michigan freshmen Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, and Chris Webber, weeks before losing to the Duke basketball team in the 1992 NCAA title game (Getty Images)

Are the Duke basketball freshmen better than the game’s most popular class?

Almost three decades ago, Michigan’s Fab Five became the first all-freshman starting five in a national championship game. Many consider that class of Wolverines to be the greatest in NCAA history. The 2020-21 Duke basketball rookies may shatter that perception.

Michigan’s five freshmen were a disparate group brought together by head coach Steve Fisher in the fall of 1991. Point guard Jalen Rose and power forward Chris Webber hailed from Detroit. Center Juwan Howard played his high school ball at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in Illinois. Shooting guard Jimmy King and small forward Ray Jackson were both recruited from the Lone Star State (King from Plano and Jackson from San Antonio).

The quintet finished the 1991-92 season with a 25-9 record (since adjusted due to the program’s improprieties) and a loss in the national championship game in Minneapolis. To the Duke Blue Devils.

ALSO READ: Ranking all 40 Duke teams under Coach K

Not before or since have five freshmen danced together on college basketball’s grandest stage. Now, the 2020-21 Blue Devils could change history in Indianapolis (host to the past two Duke national titles) next April. Coach Mike Krzyzewski welcomes the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class to Durham when the season tips (eventually).

Shooting forward Jalen Johnson from Milwaukee is the highest-rated of the six in Coach K’s 2020 class. Johnson is followed by guards Jeremy Roach from Fairfax, Va., and DJ Steward from Chicago. Seven-foot center Mark Williams hails from Virginia but played his senior year in Bradenton, Fla. A pair of power forwards, Jaemyn Brakefield of Huntington, W.Va., and Henry Coleman of Richmond, Va., round out the class. The 247Sports 2020 Composite has all six in the top 60.

Despite his success in the one-and-done era of college basketball, Coach K has never elected to start five freshmen. Should the Hall of Fame coach choose to do just that thirty years after Coach Fisher made the same ambitious choice, nary a Duke fan should question that decision. The Blue Devil class of 2020 could remind us of those Michigan “Fab Five” freshmen because they could simply be that good. Or better. So let’s compare, position by position…

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