Hammond: Michigan's 'Fearless Five' puts program back on the map

Hammond: Michigan's 'Fearless Five' puts program back on the map

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ATLANTA (WJBK) -

Tim Hardaway Jr. was barely 13 months old when the Wolverines last went to the Final Four in April of 1993, yet he knows the story well.

"They changed the game of basketball," the Junior guard told me during the team's final media availability before departing for Atlanta earlier this week. With their black socks and tongue wagging antics, that team looked a lot different than what John Beilein's players bring to the court these days. Yet there is a critical similarity between today's team and their counterparts from 20 years back.

Moments after talking with Hardaway Jr., another NBA offspring gave it to me cut and dry, when Glenn Robinson III said, "It's good for Michigan to be known as a basketball school, not just for football."

This is the common thread between then and now. Thanks to Beilein and his team's impressive tournament run thus far, the Maize and Blue is back on the map and that's before they even before they win another game this weekend at the Georgia Dome.

It wasn't that long ago that Crisler Arena used to echo instead of roar - now it's a raucous home advantage and there's plenty of support for this team as it heads out on the road to Atlanta. In six seasons at Michigan, Beilein has changed the face of basketball in Ann Arbor - and done some changing on a personal level as well. The head coach seems "lighter" as he heads to the Final Four (see Harlem Shake) admitting that he is looser off the court and allows his players more freedom on the court. Although, the latter isn't too difficult with superstar sophomore Trey Burke.

It hasn't been easy for this Michigan team, there were humps and bumps they had to get over and work through to get to this point, but afterall, it was a rigorous Big Ten season that prepared them for this moment more than any of their wins could have.

Instead of caving to public sentiment, Beilein waited patiently to insert freshman center Mitch McGary into the starting lineup in Chicago and it paid off as the big man took control of the middle of the floor and gave the Wolverines an inside presence they had lacked since Jordan Morgan injured his ankle mid-season.

And with Nik Stauskas thriving from the outside; GR3 finding his spots; Burke and Hardaway hitting big shots; and a defensive that fuels an unstoppable fast break, it's beginning to look like there isn't anything that can stop this AA train.

But back to Hardaway for a minute, and all of these players who were still in diapers the last time a Michigan basketball team owned the tournament spotlight. They may not immediately be able to conjure up similarities between themselves and their Fab Five counterparts, but 20 years from now another class of Wolverines will see the highlights and know exactly what this Fearless Five did to put Michigan basketball back on the map.

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