Introducing MEMORY LANE.
With March Madness canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ll be reliving some legendary tournament moments on the days when NCAA basketball would’ve been played. Enjoy.
It’s the oldest cliche in basketball.
A kid dribbles alone in his driveway. It’s the national championship. The game is tied. There are five seconds left. The coach calls his number. He’s the player, announcer, and crowd all in one.
The kid pulls up for three, just getting it off before the clock hits zero. 20,000 imaginary fans hold their breath…
The fake crowd goes wild. The kid celebrates with his invisible teammates. They’re the pretend national champions. And he’s the hero who won it at the buzzer.
For a while, this legendary moment only existed right there. In an imagination. In a driveway with no one around. In a young hooper’s dream.
But in the 2016 NCAA national championship game, Kris Jenkins of Villanova did the incredible: he turned this moment into reality.
Even before the insane ending, the game was already looking like a classic. The No. 2 Wildcats went back and forth with the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels all game. Led by an unexpected career night from sophomore guard Phil Booth, Villanova built a ten-point lead with just under five minutes left in the second half.
But the Tar Heels refused to go away. ACC Player of the Year Marcus Paige led the comeback, scoring eight of his game-high 21 in the final five minutes. With less than 10 seconds remaining and his team down by three, the senior point guard hit a ridiculous, double-clutch three from the parking lot, a shot that would have gone down as an all-time March Madness moment if it weren’t for Villanova’s ensuing possession.
You’ve seen it a thousand times. 4.7 seconds left. 74 all. Jenkins inbounds it to senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono. He pushes it up the floor. At around half court, he crosses over from left to right around a screen set by center Daniel Ochefu. No one in a Tar Heel uniform picks up Jenkins, who had been slowly trailing the play. Arcidiacono finds him in the corner of his eye and flips him the ball right in the breadbasket.
“Gives it to Jenkins, for the championship….”
Jenkins is mobbed. Confetti rains down. 74,000 in attendance and millions more watching at home can’t believe it. Villanova wins 77-74.
It was only right that we conclude our Memory Lane series with Jenkins’ buzzer beater. Not only is it one of the greatest shots ever hit and one of, if not the most memorable moment in NCAA Tournament history, but it also serves as a representation of just what makes March Madness so special. It marked the realization of a dream. Not Jenkins’ dream. Not Villanova’s. But everyone’s.
Jenkins’ game winning three didn’t just give the Wildcats their first championship since 1985 and turn a South Carolina native, who hasn’t played in an NBA game, into a basketball legend. It showed every kid who’s ever counted down from three, chucked up a buzzer beater in the driveway, and celebrated a pretend national championship that their one shining moment doesn’t have to be so imaginary after all.
Sam Squadron is a contributor to SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @Squad209.
Photo via Getty.