CHICAGO | Spike Albrecht poked Glenn Robinson III and told him to look out the window as the Michigan bus barreled down the Borman Expressway on Wednesday afternoon.
“Hey look, G,” he said. “There's Chesterton. There's Gary.”
That was all the homecoming the freshmen would get on their way to this weekend's Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at the United Center, where the Wolverines are playing not only for the tournament championship, but to prove they deserve a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. Should they land one of those four coveted spots, it will be Michigan's first No. 1 seed since the Fab Five wowed America in 1993.
Albrecht, Robinson III and Mitch McGary, all Northwest Indiana natives, anchor the new batch of UM basketball players calling themselves the “Fresh Five” in a nod to their predecessors of two decades ago. The three have played together since their AAU days, giving them an on-court connection that took teammates by surprise when they arrived this past summer.
“I'll make a blind pass to Glenn, and guys will ask, 'How did you know he was there?'” McGary, a forward, said after having a double-double Thursday in Michigan's 83-66 win against Penn State in the tournament's opening round.
Robinson III played four years at Lake Central, leading the Indians to a 21-3 record and the Duneland championship his senior year. He graduated as Lake Central's all-time leading scorer, and was all-conference and all-region three consecutive seasons.
McGary started high school in Chesterton, but after two years enrolled at Brewster Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire known for producing Division I and NBA basketball players. By the time he graduated, he had 31 scholarship offers.
Robinson III committed to Michigan first, but McGary said for three months only his parents and “G” knew he also planned to sign with coach John Beilein.
“As soon as I told him he said, 'Sweet, we're going to be roommates. I'll bring the fridge; you bring the microwave,'” McGary said.
While McGary and Robinson made plans, Albrecht wondered where he might land. Generously listed at 5-foot-11 on the Michigan roster, he has great court vision but lacks the height and natural showmanship befitting a basketball star. He makes things happen without scoring points—a difficult reality for a point guard trying to attract Division I scholarships.
He enrolled in a postgraduate year of prep school at Northfield Mount Hermon in Massachusetts, hoping his stock would rise.
“I wanted it, because my goal was to play at the highest level possible, but I was so under recruited,” Albrect said. “No one really knew of me.”
Until, that is, Beilein mentioned to AAU coach Wayne Brumm that he was still looking for a point guard to back up Trey Burke, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year at that time.
Brumm told Beilein he had an uncommitted point guard who was “incredible.”
“We have two eyes, but Spike, he has six or eight eyes,” Brumm said. “He's magical with the ball. The game is simpler when he's in there, getting the right guy the right pass at the right time.”
Thus Albrecht, McGary and Robinson III reunited for what has been the best season Michigan's seen since scandal swept the school in the mid-1990s.
Robinson has started every game, averaging 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. He's a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, and has the fifth-best shooting percentage in the conference.
By now his teammates know he's not the shy guy he might seem at first.
“He's this calm, cool, laid-back kid, but he's such a competitor,” Albrecht said. “He doesn't want to have a bad game twice. We expect a lot from him on this team, because he's kind of the X factor. If he does well, we do well.”
McGary is consistent off the bench, with two Freshman of the Week titles of his own. He had 10 points in the first half Thursday against Penn State, and finished with 11 rebounds.
“He has got a lot of potential, as we all can see,” Beilein said, “and he's trying to become more efficient with his game. He's trying to become more efficient with his leadership, with his practices, with all the things that could make him a very, very talented player.”
Albrecht relishes his role relieving Burke while learning from the All-American.
“Coming in I was struggling guarding the ball,” Albrecht said. “He helped me with the angles, how to get guys off balance so when they have the ball you can attack them.”
The three freshmen sit together in the locker room, live together in the dorms, and tease each other about who's got the best taste in trendy sweaters and shoes.
McGary and Robinson really did room together, and aside from claims they steal each others snacks, they've bonded well enough that they don't mind seeing each other morning, noon and night.
That's a good thing, because Michigan is the eighth-youngest team in the country, meaning these three could spend several more years side-by-side-by-side.
“We're like brothers,” Robinson III said. “We have a lot of those fights, little arguments, but we can't get mad at each other for that long. We just get over it and continue with the next day.”