By Aaron Kaplowitz
There are ten seconds to play, and it’s the scenario you’ve always dreamed about but dread that it’s actually happening. Down by three, your team has the ball with the national championship on the line. Your senses go numb. The play looks broken, hopeless, as your point guard begins to lose his balance. Stumbling face first to the hardwood, he sweeps the ball to your shooting guard. Watching from the bench, five seconds to play, your heart beats a mile a minute as you watch your son reel the ball in and take one high dribble to the left, the fate of the 2007-08 season in his hands.
You’re Ronnie Chalmers, Kansas’ director of basketball operations, watching your son, Mario, pull up from the top of the key hitting a majestic three-pointer over the out-stretched arm of Memphis’ Derrick Rose, sending the NCAA championship to overtime and sending Mario to the Eternal Tournament Highlight Film. Chalmers junior’s three would propel Kansas to a 75-68 overtime victory, earning him the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award.
“It’s great for a parent to see his son’s dream come true,” Ronnie Chalmers said. “When I saw him release it, and I looked at the ball, I said, ‘That’s going in.’”
Down by nine points, 60-51, with 2:12 to play, Kansas showed resilience and clawed back, taking advantage of Memphis’ four missed free throws down the stretch.
“We’re up [seven points] with 1:32 to go, we were so confident,” Shawn Taggart said. “We thought we were going to win.”
Memphis had reason to feel confident late in the second half when Rose, an NBA triple-double waiting to happen, scored ten straight points to help Memphis turn a one-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
“I was just trying to get my team in a position to win, so that they could get on me, and I could start passing to everybody to start knocking down shots,” he said.
But Kansas refused to give up.
“I never thought [the game] was dead,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I never did, but I knew it didn’t look very good.”
“I just thought, we can do this,” he said. “We just need to catch a break.”
And they did. With Memphis inbounding the ball, up by seven and under two minutes to play, Sherron Collins stole the pass and ended up hitting a tough three from the right corner, reviving the team and the crowd and setting the stage for one of the wildest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.
At the beginning of the season, Ronnie Chalmers gave the players a motivational poem by Jeff Smith entitled “It’s Only One Possession,” which ends in despair:
The ball soars through the air – Good Lord, it’s a brick!
I’m afraid the support will collapse. In post game I sit at my locker,
Pondering what more I could do. I realize the value of each possession,
What a shame that we lost by two.
“It’s from the point of view of defeat, saying you lost the game on one possession, and not realizing until it’s too late that just one possession cost you,” Kansas reserve Matt Kleinmann said. “And our guys I think realized that tonight and didn’t let that happen.”
Poppa Chalmers explained his reason for handing out that particular poem: “One possession can win it or lose it for you. We were on the receiving end of that one possession, so it was great.”
Being on the opposite end of that one possession may be Derrick Rose’s last memory as a college basketball player. After the game, the freshman refused to reveal his thoughts about going pro and said that he’d start thinking about his decision in a couple of weeks. He put on quite the show for cellar-dwelling Miami Heat head coach and president Pat Riley, who was on hand as a recent inductee to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Rose filled the stat sheet with 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds, showing flashes of dominance and maturity well beyond his years.
“I think he’s a great player,” Brandon Rush said. “He’s so strong. He can’t get any space, you gotta make sure you crowd him. He’s explosive.”
Following the loss, Rose received words of encouragement from Reverend Jesse Jackson.
“It hurts, but you get your stars from your scars,” Jackson preached to several members of the press. “Smile through your tears and speak above your pain.”
Rose will rebound from this heartbreaking loss and should go on to have an illustrious NBA career. But on this night, Kansas broke the piñata at the Final Four Fiesta, earning the right to celebrate in dramatic fashion
“They might have had Reverend Jesse Jackson, but I know we had Mario Chalmers,” Kleinmann said.
Aaron Kaplowitz is a freelance sports reporter. After five nights in Texas, he needs some sleep. Check out some of his recent articles at: http://aaronkaplowitz.wordpress.com/
Legendary image courtesy of Streeter Lecka, Getty Images Sport