Jimmy King serves as classroom mentor to freshmen with Sweet Sixteen around the corner

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 29, 2013

ARLINGTON, Texas — On Monday afternoon, Jimmy King walked into Prof. Santiago “Yago” Colás’s culture of basketball class to give a guest lecture about the Fab Five. Sitting in the 25-person audience were five freshmen tabbed as the “fresh five,” the Michigan men’s basketball team’s newest quintet of freshmen basketball stars.

The five freshmen — forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, and guards Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht and Nik Stauskas — were there as King answered questions and assisted Colás in teaching the “Fab Five” documentary produced by King’s former teammate and fellow Fab Five member, Jalen Rose.

Monday was King’s second appearance in as many years in the class, which chronologically teaches the history of basketball. Colás said he didn’t purposely schedule the teaching of the Fab Five era, the 90s, to coincide with March Madness, but even with basketball players often his class, he won’t re-configure the syllabus.

“I didn’t set out to do it that way, although in retrospect, I’m glad,” Colás said in a phone interview on Thursday.

King didn’t come into class with a prepared speech. Instead, Colás told the class the previous week to come in with questions that would fuel the 80-minute classroom discussion.

While some of those questions were rooted in history, or how King and the rest of the Fab Five helped to shape today’s basketball culture, some took an entirely different, more pointed focus.

McGary asked King, “ ‘What kind of advice would you give us to get through this regional?’ ” Colas said.

“He was talking about what they did in the Sweet Sixteen and how they tried to take each game as a tournament run, so the first two games to get to the Sweet Sixteen, then those two games, then the Final Four,” said freshman forward Glenn Robinson III. “It’s just an honor to hear some of the things that he had to say about their runs. I think just hearing what he had to say has given me more motivation to win this thing.”

Added freshman point guard Spike Albrecht: “He just said, ‘Go out there, stay confident and stay aggressive.’ ”

Freshman guard Nik Stauskas was impressed that King was “open about talking about anything,” noting that the players, as well as the other 20 students in the class, had the opportunity to ask whatever they wanted.

“We kind of got to see their whole mentality of the runs they made getting to the Final Four,” Stauskas said. “He kind of just gave us his own little message to us of what we should take in from this whole position we’re in. It was really cool just to get his honest opinion and honest word.”

King said that the experience was mutually beneficial, both for the players to hear his perspective, and for him, as a fan and alum, to see the players’ “business-like attitude and enthusiasm” as they’re in the midst of their own postseason run.

“It’s unique for me to see these guys in this position away from the game,” King said in a phone interview. “It’s great for the kids. It lifts your spirits — you feel a part of it, you’re a part of history, even tough you may be making history in your own right, but you’re part of the history that came before you.

“It’s like another block to the foundation of a very historic university that will be there forever, and you want to be a part of that. I think that’s a reason why most of us chose to go there, because of the great tradition and history, and now when you have an opportunity to do it yourself, you do want to pick the brains of people who have been there before you and see how can write your own story and make it unique.”

King explained his primary message was to stay focused and block out the distractions that come along with a NCAA Tournament run, but at the same time, to enjoy the moment.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” King said, recalling his advice to the players. “Don’t get caught up in what people are saying, the talking heads are saying. Don’t read too many papers, just continue to do what you’ve done to get to this point. You’re obviously doing something right, you’re obviously playing the game and winning, so don’t change your formula, don’t change your routine.”

High-profile athletes, like the five current freshmen, typically keep the classroom and playing field as separate entities. That’s why Colás noted that, as both a teacher and a basketball fan, sitting back and watching the interaction between the players and King on Monday was so unique.

“I got a sense that they were looking up to him, that he sort of established a tone in the way that he entered the room and engaged, not just them, but all of the students and student-athletes in the class, as a Michigan alumnus with experience who’d been in their shoes,” Colás said. “He had inspiring words for them.”

Colás was so impressed with King’s charismatic approach to the classroom that he said he wishes he always had King by his side to aid in the course’s teaching because of the way the students respond to him.

“They will certainly listen to me, but it’s another thing coming from somebody who has trod the road that Jimmy has,” Colás said. “He’s very articulate, he connects very well with young people at their level, but also … offers them an adult perspective that I think carries a lot of credibility because of his ability to connect to them at the same time at their level, and because he’s had their experiences.”

The Fab Five has made a recent push back into the public sphere, not just because of the freshmen sensations on this year’s team, but because of an expiring deadline regarding the University’s ability to acknowledge the Fab Five.

In 2002, under the direction of University president Mary Sue Coleman, the athletic department placed a self-imposed dissociation from the players, including Fab Five star Chris Webber, that were named in the scandal. That dissociation, which included the 1992 and 1993 Final Four banners being removed from the Crisler Center rafters, ends in May of this year.

Webber has refused to publicly acknowledge Michigan since, and Colás said that many of his students approached him to express their appreciation that King, despite his resentment for how the University has treated the Fab Five and its banners, still speaks proudly of Michigan, both in public and in the classroom.

But to King, that’s a no-brainer.

“It’s important to have the legacy that I went out there and gave my all for, it’s important for me that that relationship is mended and I hope to be a part of that and being a leader in making it happen,” King said. “I would like to see all the things that we worked for and sweat for and died for with the Michigan uniform on will be celebrated and appreciated within the arena and on campus and in regards to the University itself.

“But I love the University, I support the University. I always have, I always will.”