Photo credit: Mark Weber
University of Memphis basketball fans call it “The Miracle Shot” or just “The Shot.”
Memphis basketball players—especially those who saw it live—are sick and tired of hearing about it.
Pierre Henderson-Niles, whose gargantuan frame has been splashed across print magazines and Web sites, head hung and streamers draped from his massive shoulders, tries to put it all out of his mind.
“I’m sure (the shot) is gonna be re-played again (Tuesday) night when we play (Kansas), but I really try not to look at it,” he says candidly. “Every time I look at it, I get mad from seeing it. I try not to look at it, I try not to even think about it, because it was a pretty big failure for us.”
“The Shot,” if you live in Memphis or root for U of M basketball, refers to the Mario Chalmers three-pointer over the outstretched arms of phenom Derrick Rose to tie the 2008 National Championship Game at 63, forcing the tilt into overtime, where the Jayhawks ultimately prevailed, 75-68.
KU fans would agree with that assessment, I expect.
Now, depending on where you live or who you root for, you might think of a different moment in time when you hear the expression “The Shot.”
Depending on what part of Indiana in which you reside, the term might refer to March 18, 1998, when Bryce Drew threw a dagger into the hearts of Ole Miss Rebel fans with a three-pointer that led to Valparaiso’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, 70-69.
Yet, if you are a bit older and root for the Indiana Hoosiers, “The Shot” was drained by Keith Smart on April 6, 1987, and it was a baseline jumper, just inside the three-point line, to topple Syracuse, 74-73, and gave Bobby Knight his third (and final) title as a Hoosier.
If you live in Durham, North Carolina, surely “The Shot” was Christian Laettner against Kentucky, March 28, 1992; the full court pass, the catch, the hip-move, the turnaround jumper on the way to the scintillating 104-103 overtime victory.
But Chicago Bull fans (and Wikipedia) say that Michael Jordan’s jumper over Craig Ehlo on May 7, 1989, trumps them all and stakes rightful claim to the title, “The Shot.”
Regardless of whether or not you espouse Chalmers' dramatics as “The Shot,” if you follow college basketball and have a pulse, you probably know that Memphis and Kansas will finally meet on the court again, some 17 months after the fact, but under very different circumstances.
The two rosters were dripping with soon-to-be pros that fateful night of April 7, 2008. Three Memphis starters—Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Derrick Rose—dot NBA rosters (Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, and Chicago Bulls respectively). Another starter, Antonio Anderson, was drafted to the NBDL by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
The final starter, Robert Dozier, is now overseas in Greece, playing for Colossus Rhodes, and the first big man off the bench, Shawn Taggart, performs for Ironi Nahariya of the Israeli Premier League.
The winning Kansas team was just as decorated.
Darrell Arthur performs in the NBA for (ironically enough) the Memphis Grizzlies. Chalmers is the starting point guard for the Miami Heat. Darnell Jackson is a Cleveland Cavalier.
Sasha Kaun returned home to Russia, where he cashes checks to play basketball. Russell Robinson is on the NBDL roster of the Reno Bighorns. And Brandon Rush landed with the Indiana Pacers.
No wonder new Memphis head coach Josh Pastner feels a bit disconnected by it all.
“For our team, the focus isn’t on 2008. Let me tell you this,” he starts, "the whole point of the game was made for one versus two in the country. Memphis probably would have been No. 1 and Kansas No. 2, or vice versa.
“Either way, it would have been one and two had Coach Calipari stayed here, and we had that high-rated recruiting class coming in.
“So obviously, when Coach Cal left, and other people left, it kind of lost some of your feel. It’s no longer a rematch of the national championship game. Now Memphis against Kansas is different coaches, different players, and it’s not one and two.”
Henderson-Niles echoed those sentiments.
“You really can’t look at that (game), it’s two different teams now. We’ve got a different team, they’ve got a different team.”
Only Henderson-Niles, Willie Kemp, and Doneal Mack from Memphis remember the pain of watching their historic 38-win season come screeching to a bitter end, with the Jayhawks celebrating on court.
Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins are the only Jayhawks still around who were there to experience the exhilaration of erasing a nine-point deficit over the final 2:12 of regulation.
“Obviously, for Kansas to win, every moon, star, everything had to be aligned perfectly, and it did in those final two minutes,” Pastner points out.
As things ended up, Kansas now is the consensus No. 1 in the country, with “a future Hall-of-Fame coach” (in Pastner’s words) in Bill Self, all five starters returning, and a recruiting class that is the envy of anyone not named Kentucky.
Xavier Henry (regarded by many as the top incoming freshman in the country), Elijah Johnson, Thomas Robinson, and Jeff Withey (a transfer from Arizona who will not be eligible until January) all add lethal depth to an already accomplished team.
In yet another ironic twist, Josh Pastner had signed Henry to Memphis, only to lose him when John Calipari fled to Kentucky, and inked Withey for Arizona two years ago. Memphis was also one of the finalists for Robinson last fall.
Josh Pastner is only concerned about his own current team, however, not who is gone and not who is signed to come in next fall.
“We’re looking at this team (Kansas) as another game on the schedule,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who we play; we have to give the maximum effort that we can give, because winning is a by-product of effort.
“We have to play hard, we have to compete, we have to leave every ounce of energy that we have out on the floor. It doesn’t matter who our opponent is; if we do that, we will have an opportunity to win.”
As for Kansas specifically, Pastner is under no illusions that the Jayhawks are a pushover by any stretch of the imagination.
“Kansas is big, they’re good, they’ve got pros,” Pastner observed. “Their two best things that they do offensively (are) offensive rebounding and offensive transition. We’re gonna have to be really good defensive transition-wise and on the glass.
"Given our lack of size, we have to make sure that we’re getting five guys on the defensive glass. That means 10 Memphis feet in the paint, and not just there in the paint, they’ve gotta jump and go get the basketball.”
Kansas is an early 13.5 point favorite in the contest, which might actually be kind to Memphis.
The ‘Hawks are coming off a scintillating 101-65 rout of Hofstra on Friday night. Henry led the way with a Kansas freshman-debut record 27 points. It was the 42nd-consecutive home win for KU.
Henry added five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block with zero turnovers in 24 minutes of action.
Preseason All-Americans Cole Aldrich (11 points, eight rebounds, four blocks) and Sherron Collins (23 points, four rebounds, three assists) also made their presence felt.
Coach Self was generally pleased but still saw some flaws in his team’s performance.
“We played pretty well offensively. Xavier (Henry) got us off to a great start, he had eight points right out of the shoot. I thought the ball moved pretty well early and in the second half, I don’t think it moved well.
“All-in-all, I thought we played pretty well. We didn’t block out worth a flip and they beat us on some hustle plays. Defensively, we were fortunate because they missed some looks that most nights they wouldn’t miss. When the game got away, we got pretty careless defensively.”
So the stage is finally set for Memphis and Kansas to reprise their 2008 title tilt. The atmosphere at the Hall of Fame Showcase in St. Louis, Missouri, will be markedly different, and the stakes won’t be nearly as high. It’s just a couple of potentially dangerous teams measuring themselves against elite competition in just their second game of the season.
But forgive Memphis fans if they see the jersey with the name “Kansas” on the front and have flashbacks of what might have been that April day, seemingly a lifetime ago.
Arkansas, Louisville, Kansas, Memphis
Memphis vs. Kansas, 2009 Hall of Fame Showcase
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Scottrade Center (Home of the St. Louis Blues hockey team), St. Louis, MO
Proceeds donated to the non-profit Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA
Memphis-Kansas to be televised on ESPN and ESPN360, 9 p.m. CT
Probable Starting Lineups
Markieff Morris, F, 6 ppg, 7 rpg Pierre Henderson-Niles, F, 5 ppg, 5 rpg
Cole Aldrich, C, 11 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 bpg Wesley Witherspoon, F, 13 ppg, 4 rpg
Xavier Henry, G, 27 ppg, 5 rpg Roburt Sallie, G, 7 ppg, 7 rpg, 4 apg, 4 spg
Sherron Collins, G, 23 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg Willie Kemp, G, 4 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg
Tyshawn Taylor, G, 8ppg, 4 rpg, 6 apg Elliot Williams, G, 19 ppg, 3 rpg, 3 apg
Marcus Morris, F, 9 ppg, 4 rpg Will Coleman, F, 16 ppg, 10 rpg, 5 bpg
Elijah Johnson, G, 8 ppg, 4 rpg Doneal Mack, G, 8 ppg, 1 rpg, 2 apg
Thomas Robinson, F, 5 ppg, 5 rpg Drew Barham, F/G, 7 ppg, 2 rpg
Tyrel Reed, G, 3 rpg, 3 apg D.J. Stephens, F/G, 1 ppg, 2 rpg
Keys to Victory
Kansas wants to 1) control the boards, 2) get Memphis’ only true big men (Henderson-Niles, Coleman) into foul trouble, 3) exploit their ridiculously deep bench, and 4) jump on Memphis early and break the will of an inexperienced team.
Memphis must 1) rebound with reckless abandon, 2) hammer the ball into the post on offense to make the Jayhawk big men work and perhaps foul, 3) improve their transition defense, and 4) stay close at all costs.
My heart picks the plucky, ever-resilient Tigers from Memphis, but my head screams “Kansas.” I’m following my head this time; my heart will have to wait until another day. Kansas will not cover the spread, however, which currently stands at -13.5.
Kansas 83, Memphis 72