Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Chalmers, Kansas get One Shining Moment
By Pat Forde
SAN ANTONIO -- The shot that saved a season took just a moment -- a Shining Moment, you could say.
The hug lasted for minutes.
After hitting the biggest Final Four jumper since Keith Smart's in 1987, Mario Chalmers summoned his mother, Almarie, down from the Alamodome stands to courtside. The unflappable Kansas Jayhawk wrapped both arms around her, laid his head on her shoulder and bawled like a baby.
She pumped her left arm. He wouldn't let go.
"We did it, Mom," Chalmers said between sobs.
"A dream come true," Almarie said later, her own eyes glistening. "A prayer answered. We've been waiting on this moment since he was 2."
This moment -- this Shining Moment -- was almost preordained four years earlier, when Mario went to the Final Four in this same building with his dad, current Kansas director of basketball operations Ronnie Chalmers. They watched Connecticut beat Georgia Tech for the title, and Ronnie remembers one spectacular play from that game when he jumped to his feet but Mario remained in his chair.
"What's wrong?" Ronnie asked his son.
"I'm thinking," Mario said.
"What are you thinking about?"
"One day," Mario said, "I'm going to be out there winning the national championship."
That goal guided the Chalmers family from Alaska to Kansas three years ago. It guided them to this game and ultimately to this moment -- this Shining Moment -- that rescued Kansas from near-certain defeat and gave the 2008 NCAA tournament its signature.
Chalmers' shot capped the Jayhawks' steely nine-point comeback in the final 2:12 of regulation on their way to a 75-68 overtime triumph. It was the blow that broke an excellent Tigers squad -- a Tigers squad that turned the school's first championship into a stunning championship choke.
"You have a lead like that," coach John Calipari said, "you're supposed to win the game."
The emotional whiplash that followed Chalmers' 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining will be felt for years on both campuses. Memphis will always love a team that finished 38-2 -- but always wince at the way it unraveled at the very end. And giddy Kansas now has another name to add to its list of all-time heroes: Clyde Lovellette, Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning
|Mario Chalmers' tying shot was the biggest Final Four basket in 21 years.|
On the 20th anniversary of Danny and the Miracles' winning Kansas' last championship, give a Rock Chalk salute to Miracle Mario.
"It will probably be the biggest shot in Kansas history," coach Bill Self said.
The kid scored 18 on the night, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. But the replay that will live forever in Lawrence will focus on a single shot. For years to come, kids all over Kansas will go into the driveway or the backyard or the gym and pretend to be Mario Chalmers swishing that jumper.
With 10.8 seconds left, Self diagrammed the play. It called for the potential tying shot to be in Chalmers' calm hands -- a pass from penetrating Sherron Collins for a 3.
Of course Chalmers was the choice: He has home-state ice water in his veins. He's been good in the clutch his entire career.
"In YMCA and AAU and high school, he was always the go-to guy," Ronnie Chalmers said.
For the go-to guy's shot to matter, though, Kansas needed at least one more in a nightmarish series of missed free throws from Memphis.
Awful foul shooting was the endlessly discussed weakness of these Tigers, but they had made it a moot point in three straight rampaging NCAA tournament victories over Michigan State, Texas and UCLA. Now, with the title right there for the taking, star junior Chris Douglas-Roberts missed three straight, leaving the door open for Kansas.
Then, with 10.8 seconds on the clock, sensational freshman Derrick Rose stood on the line with Memphis up two, trying to ice it. His first shot hit the rim and fell off. He made the second, but the one miss gave Kansas its opportunity to tie.
Collins dribbled upcourt and veered to his right -- almost losing the ball as Memphis players hacked at him, trying to foul and prevent a 3 from being hoisted. Collins' strength probably prevented a whistle, though, and he shoved a pass to Chalmers as he came curling off the wing.
The ball came up into Chalmers' chest. He took one rushed dribble to his left and elevated. Rose jumped with him, arm outstretched. Chalmers arched the shot over Rose's fingers and into the tension-drenched Texas air.
"I thought it was going in when it left my hands," Chalmers said.
Teammate Brandon Rush, who was directly underneath the basket, concurred.
I thought it was going in when it left my hands.
"I could see it splash right in there," Rush said. "Pretty cool."
Blessed with a good sight line in the stands behind the play, Almarie Chalmers knew, too.
"I saw it going straight in," she said. "When it hit the bottom of the net, I breathed."
Everyone else screamed. Kansas fans in ecstasy. Memphis fans in agony.
The Tigers had nothing left in overtime. No momentum. No Joey Dorsey, who had fouled out. No legs for tired Douglas-Roberts and cramping Rose. Kansas scored the first six in OT to take command of a game it had come amazingly close to losing.
Earlier in the second half, as the game began slipping away from the Jayhawks, Self was telling his players, "You've got to believe." But the situation was dire enough that when Memphis' Robert Dozier went to the foul line with 2:12 left and the Tigers up seven, Ronnie Chalmers reached into his pocket for some divine guidance.
On a piece of paper, he'd written two verses from Psalms: 46:10 and 46:1. He pulled them out and read them to himself.
"Be still, and know that I am God," reads 46:10.
"God is a refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble," reads 46:1.
"We were in trouble at that time," Ronnie said.
The trouble deepened when Dozier swished both free throws. The lead was 60-51 as the clocked slipped inside two minutes. This was desperate.
But Chalmers and Collins -- two guards who had taken some very bad shots as Memphis asserted itself -- rode to the rescue.
Chalmers passed to Darrell Arthur for a jump shot that made it 60-53. Then, after a timeout, Collins made the two plays that really made it a ballgame -- he stole the ball from Antonio Anderson and, after a couple of quick passes, got it back in the corner for a 3-pointer.
Until then, Kansas was 1-for-9 from 3-point range. Collins swished it.
After a pair of Douglas-Roberts free throws, Chalmers made a pair of his own. That set the stage for Memphis' foul-line debacle, which was augmented by a bad decision to attack the basket with 20 seconds left instead of pulling the ball out and killing clock while clinging to a two-point lead.
But all the Memphis foibles down the stretch could have been survived if Chalmers hadn't hit the shot of a lifetime.
"First, I'm happy for Mario," Ronnie Chalmers said. "Then I'm happy for Coach Self -- he was long overdue for this. Then I'm happy for the team.
"It's great for a parent to see their son's dream come true.
You've got to think about it every day the rest of your life. This is the moment."
One Shining Moment.
|Kansas' first title in 20 years was as dramatic as it gets. |
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.