Michigan’s men’s basketball all-time roster: Wolverine legends

The 2022-23 Michigan basketball regular season is officially over, but legends can be built in the postseason, if they weren’t built already. In fact, if you look back on the program, most Wolverine legends came to be due to how they performed in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament.

So which players were the best to ever wear maize and blue on the hardwood? That can be a contentious argument, given some well-known names wouldn’t be in many fans’ top five. And going even further, if you were to delineate between starters and backups at different positions, would the program’s all-time leading scorer be a backup in that scenario?

Michigan basketball has had many top names come through, from Cazzie Russell to Glen Rice, from the Fab Five to Robert “Tractor” Traylor, from the full cast of the 1989 national championship team, to any who made Final Fours under John Beilein.

Here is who would make our all-time team when it comes to Michigan basketball.

Starting PG: Jalen Rose

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Years active: 1991-94

Jalen Rose may be slightly overshadowed by his teammate, Chris Webber, but he’s no worse than 1B to his 1A.

The name Jalen was made up by his mother, as legend has it, and since Rose was partly responsible for the hip-hop infusion that has since permeated both basketball and pop culture, the name has exploded. He was iconic in just about every way.

Like Juwan Howard, Rose was a leader of the Fab Five, if not the leader. He averaged 17.5 points per game in his three years in Ann Arbor and continues to be a known face with his show on ESPN.

Backup PG: Trey Burke

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Years active: 2011-13

Several took steps to help Michigan basketball get back into shape, but it was Trey Burke who brought the Wolverines fully back to the forefront of the college scene.

The Wooden Award-winner in 2012, Burke led Michigan basketball to its first Final Four since the Fab Five, and he is the first Wolverine in the modern era to reach true star status. Just the mention of his name will bring two reactions: his buzzer-beater against Kansas in the 2016 Sweet 16 to send the game to overtime and the clean block against Louisville that was called a foul, keeping the maize and blue from winning the national championship that year.

Without Burke, there’s no way Michigan goes as far as it did even with that team being loaded with future stars. Even after his departure, it’s unlikely the success that the Wolverines have had would have come about.

Starting SG: Gary Grant

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Years active: 1984-88

Yes, Grant was a point guard, but we’re including him as the starting shooting guard thanks to his prowess in maize and blue.

Grant is fourth all-time among the program’s leading scorers with 2,222 points. He is still a major record holder in various categories, pretty impressive considering he left the program in 1988:

Grant holds several Michigan records including career starts (128), career assists (731), career steals (total and per game), career minutes, career turnovers, single-season assists per game, single-season steals (total and per game, first, second and third places for both), single-season turnovers, and single-game steals.

Grant’s starring role came two years before the Wolverines won their sole national championship.

Backup SG: Mike McGee

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Years active: 1977-81

McGee was the first Wolverine to lead the team with four straight scoring titles, averaging 21.4 points per game across his four years in Ann Arbor. He has the second-most points all time in program history, behind only Glen Rice, and has the third-most points in a single season, behind Rice and Cazzie Russell.

Starting SF: Cazzie Russell

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Years active: 1963-66

Crisler Center is called “the house that Cazzie built” for a reason, and it’s acknowledged before every home game in the pregame intro video starring Jalen Rose. The 1966 player of the year, Russell averaged 30.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. His Michigan basketball team won three straight Big Ten Conference titles and made two Final Four appearances.

Russell has the second-most points in a single season, 800, in the 1965-66 season and is fifth all-time scoring.

Backup SG: Glen Rice

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Years active: 1985-89

You can tell Russell is a legend in his own right given Rice is our backup here. If it was just picking the five best or five most influential Michigan basketball players of all time, Rice certainly would have made that cut, but since we’re going by position, he would likely be our sixth man.

What’s even more egregious here on our part: Rice is still Michigan basketball’s all-time scoring leader (2,442 points) and still holds the record for most points scored in a season (949).

Starting PF: Chris Webber

AP Photo/Ed Reinke

Years active: 1991-93

The face of the Fab Five and the biggest star of them all. You could make a case Webber was the best to ever wear maize and blue.

The former NBA No. 1 pick was electric, even in his freshman year. The Detroit Country Day star spurned MSU for the Wolverines and became one of the biggest stars in basketball, if not the biggest. He averaged 17.4 points per game and was an absolute force, helping lead his team to two consecutive Final Fours and championship game appearances.

Of course, given the untimely timeout that wasn’t and the Ed Martin scandal, Webber’s legacy was long under fire. While he has returned for away basketball games and home football games, Webber has not yet come back to Crisler to cheer on his alma mater at home.

Backup PF: Rudy Tomjanovich

Rudy Tomjanovich
Rudy Tomjanovich

AP Photo/Duane Burleson

Years active: 1967-70

Known nationally more for coaching the Houston Rockets and LA Lakers, ‘Rudy T’ is a legend in Ann Arbor and his hometown of Hamtramck. The All-Big Ten and All-American player set a rebounding record which persists, averaging 14.4 rebounds per game and a staggering 15.7 his final year with the program. He did so while averaging 30.1 points per game in his last year.

As with Rice, the only reason Rudy T. isn’t an obvious starter is who comes before him, Chris Webber. His 48 single-game points is still a program record.

Starting C: Juwan Howard

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Years active: 1991-94

Currently the head coach for the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team, Howard was weirdly underrated during his time as a player in Ann Arbor, which is to say he was acknowledged as one of the best players in the country, but overshadowed by Chris Webber and Jalen Rose.

However, Howard was perhaps the spiritual leader of the Fab Five, while averaging 7.5 rebounds per game and 15.3 points per game. He stayed three years before being picked fifth in the 1994 NBA draft.

Backup C: Tim McCormick

Years active: 1980-84

Perhaps not as flashy as some of his compatriots, McCormick was beyond solid during his time in Ann Arbor. He averaged 9.8 points per game and 5.3 rebounds, and helped lead the Wolverines to the NIT in his senior year.

Starting head coach: John Beilein

michigan basketball john beilein
michigan basketball john beilein

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Years active: 2007-19

Perhaps no one in basketball, period, has done more with less. And John Beilein did it the right way, to boot.

At Michigan, Beilein was 278-150 (.650), but when you consider what he inherited — a team decimated by sanctions that was so uncompetitive, it was barely making NITs, let alone NCAA tournaments. Yet, in Year 2, Beilein had the Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament. By his fifth year, they were in the NCAA championship game. He took the maize and blue to two Final Fours, and even the not-so-good Beilein teams tended to make late-season runs. He set up Juwan Howard for success in the process, and brought Michigan basketball back from the brink of obscurity and irrelevance.

Backup coach: Steve Fisher

Stephen Dunn /Allsport

Years active: 1982-89 (assistant), 1989-97 (head coach)

As an assistant, Fisher won the national championship in 1989 with Bill Frieder’s team. Fisher took over the program right before the start of the NCAA Tournament after the famous Bo Schembechler quote: “A Michigan man is going to coach Michigan.” The following season, he started overseeing perhaps the most influential basketball team of all time.

Fisher was the head coach who put the Fab Five on the court in their freshman year to great results. That team reached two Final Fours and NCAA championship games, losing heartbreakers to Duke and North Carolina, successively. He remained the head coach until 1997, but his legacy is marred by the NCAA violations, which led to his dismissal for cause.

Still, while the Ed Martin scandal sent the maize and blue into the abyss on the hardwood, Fisher’s teams changed the game entirely.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire