Meeting the Fab Five: Lessons in Being a Leader

Prodigious.  Boisterous.  Controversial.  The Fab Five were called many things, but never subtle.

In the early nineties, the five freshmen at the University of Michigan were all the talk in the world of college basketball.  They, through their success and popularity, reached out to new demographics and inspired many of their fans.  To others, they were a source of headache and worry, envoys of the unavoidable change that would overtake the business.

Despite their divisive behavior, one cannot deny their impact on college basketball.  Baggy shorts, black socks, trash talk… all of these the Fab Five brought to the court along with their A-game, which nearly won them the NCAA championship, twice.  Before their eventual breakup, they had the hopeful eyes of countless University of Michigan fans locked on their every move.  Their contagious excitement made them the undisputed centerpiece of Michigan’s basketball program, something that turned out to be a mixed blessing for the freshmen, who quickly became tired of the pressure that was being pushed onto them.

“I didn’t feel like a college kid anymore.  I felt like a professional athlete that wasn’t getting paid,” Jalen Rose lamented in ESPN’s 30 for 30 Fab Five Feature.  The pressure was affecting the Fab Five, mounting at the beginning of their sophomore year due to their popularity being used as an instrument of merchandising and business.

Their coach, Steve Fisher, also pushed the Fab Five to participate in as many summer camps as possible.  It was during one of those camps that Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Eric Riley met Nathan Genzink.

Rocky Harbison, a tire store owner and resident of Holland, had organized an OK Shoot Out in Holland during the summer of 1992.  Harbison was thrilled to have two of the Fab Five, and Eric Riley, present for his fundraiser, which aimed to raise money to pay for the operation of a four year-old boy with a hearing disability.  Harbison arranged for the three to be driven from Battle Creek to Holland in a limo to judge the contest and bring in funds for the cause.  Also riding in this limo would be two reporters, Jeff Seidel (Grand Rapids Press) and Gary Brouwer (Holland Sentinel) who would be given the chance to relax and chat with the young players during the drive to the event.  Nathan Genzink, then only eleven years old, was also awarded the opportunity to meet the three star basketball players.  Being a huge fan of the Fab Five, and having lost his brother in an unfortunate accident the week before, Genzink’s uncle and Harbison decided to give the young boy the chance to meet his heroes.  The three players climbed into the limo, where an eager Nate Genzink and two excited reporters were waiting.

What followed defied all expectations.

Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, exhausted and apparently not enthused about the idea of spending the day judging three-on-three basketball games, were asleep almost as soon as they got into the car.  The reporters sat, stupified at the actions (or a decided lack of action) on the part of Rose and Webber.  Eric Riley conversed some with the passengers, but none of Genzink’s souvenirs were signed, and by the end of the trip, all had begun to worry about the fate of Harbison’s fundraiser.

Upon arriving at the Manufacturer’s Marketplace, the location of the tournament, the players sleepily greeted the crowd of over four thousand with a transparent lack of enthusiasm.  They stayed on mostly good behavior for the next few hours, going through the motions of signing autographs and judging dunk contests.  However, their disinterest devolved to the point where they left the fundraiser to play games in a nearby arcade.  Upon returning, the feeling that they had been exploited washed over them, and the three wanted out.  They once again felt used by the great powers around them, and decided that their involvement in Harbison’s fundraiser was officially over with.

They demanded to leave early, specifically at 2:30 PM instead of 5:00 PM, and wanted the payment they had been promised in cash, which Harbison reluctantly had to pay. They eventually left the charity event tired and irritated.  As the limo pulled away, a confused crowd watched in disappointment, similarly irritated.

Nathan Genzink, now a member of the Hamilton coaching staff, remembers this day well.  Although it was very much a let down at the time, he is not embittered by the disappointing turn of events.  He learned an important lesson when he met his heroes that day, one he has taken to heart as a coach and a leader in our community.

“Doesn’t matter who you are, people look up to you.  Never let your guard down on others,” Genzink said.  He learned that day just how much an individual can affect those around them. Even though he was only 11 years old, he had already begun to understand the value of encouragement and consideration.  Although he had to learn this lesson in the worst way, he still acknowledges that the experience helped him remember what mattered when he was growing up.

Also there to reinforce this lesson was Colly Carlson, Genzink’s basketball coach and a man who he respected greatly, as a leader and as a friend.  Nate loved the game of basketball growing up, playing it all through high school and later becoming a coach himself, working under his mentor and longtime friend, Carlson.  He is now working with Brant Haverdink, the current Varsity Boys Basketball coach, whom he played with and cultivated a deep respect for over a long career.

“Those were some of the best memories of my life,” Nate Genzink said, fondly recalling his own time on the court.  His dream now is to provide the encouragement that he was taught here in Hamilton to the next generation of kids, and to leave no athlete disappointed.

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