Shots they'll never forget
Jeff Capel has mastered a few trick shots during his basketball career.
He can shoot a set-shot from halfcourt, as if he's taking a free throw, and make it about 40 percent of the time. He can also bounce the ball into the hoop from mid-court with surprising regularity. He'll show off his array of wizardry during practice these days to his players at Virginia Commonwealth University, where the 28-year-old Capel is the country's youngest Division I men's basketball coach.
But when you mention the name Jeff Capel in the same breath with halfcourt shots, only one comes to mind to most fans. It's the one he launched on Feb. 2, 1995. The one ESPN Classic brings out of the library when Duke plays North Carolina each season. The one that sent Dick Vitale into hysteria and helped ESPN2 become must-see TV in the homes of millions of basketball fans.
Few remember Duke was winless in the ACC that night when North Carolina arrived in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Or, that the Blue Devils were in the midst of one of the program's worst seasons in recent history.
No, what they remember is Capel's 40-footer hitting nothing but net, sending what would become ano= Instant Classic into another overtime. And, while the second-ranked Tar Heels would eventually win the double-overtime thriller 102-100, Capel's shot remains etched in this storied rivalry's rich history.
"It felt good as soon as I let it go," Capel still says to this day.
As Dick Vitale would say (and did say that night) "Are you serious?"
For those who don't remember the plays before or after Capel's shot, here are the particulars leading up to Capel finding the ball in his hands at the right time.
While Duke would miss the NCAAs, the Tar Heels entered the game ranked No. 2 in the country. But as is the case when these two teams meet, their records were irrelevant. And, what transpired was one of the great games in the history of this rivalry.
Both teams were streaky that night. Each came back from sizable deficits before needing overtime to settle the score. North Carolina scored the first nine points of the first overtime. The Heels remained ahead by three points with four seconds remaining and reliable big man Serge Zwikker at the free throw line. Zwikker, however, missed both free throws and Capel found himself with the ball as it caromed off the rim. With Duke out of timeouts, he raced to halfcourt and let it fly as the buzzer sounded.
Swish. Tie game.
As for any more heroics? Well, Capel fouled out early in that second extra session as the Heels ultimately survived Duke's upset bid. But, again, fans tend to forget those things when a moment as big as Capel's shot come first.
"I remember watching when Michael Jordan hit the shot (to win the national championship) for North Carolina," says Capel, the son of a coach who says he practiced those halfcourt shots during hours growing up in gyms or on the blacktop.
"That whole summer in the playground, I was him. When I was in high school, I hit a shot at the buzzer to win regionals, and a layup with two seconds left to win the state title. I always had confidence in that situation.
"I always wanted the ball. I understood that you're going to be the hero or goat, and most of the time, you're the goat. You have to be confident. If you're afraid, you're not going to make that shot."
There have been plenty of other players who've stepped up in the moment to win games on ESPN. During ESPN's 25 seasons of college basketball, hundreds of buzzer-beaters have sent fans pouring onto the court and left broadcasters not named "Vitale" speechless.
Remember any of these games on ESPN/ESPN2, or the players involved?
BYU vs. Notre Dame
March 19, 1981
Ainge wasn't supposed to take the shot that has become one of the signature moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament. He hadn't gotten an open look the entire game, so there was no reason to think things would be any different on the last play of BYU's first-round matchup with Notre Dame.
Kelly Tripucka put Notre Dame up 50-49 with 10 seconds left to play. And, as he took the inbounds pass, Ainge had no idea he was about to engineer a remarkable play. But, as he zigged and zagged his way past one defender, then another, and another, he approached the basket. He then flipped the ball up, just over the outstretched fingertips of Notre Dame's Orlando Woolridge and into the net as time ran out.
"They had been running 'box and one' on me the entire game," Ainge still recalls. "Every time I was within 20 feet of the basket, I was being double-teamed. So I really anticipated that I needed to push the ball as hard as I could, create the double-team and find one of my teammates for an open shot.
"As I dribbled up the court, the lane opened up and I kept getting closer and closer to the basket until I got all the way."
Where Is He Now? After a NBA career as a player and coach, Ainge is in his first season as the executive director of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics.
Georgia Tech vs. Maryland
March 8, 1986
There's a payoff to all those times the coach gives a scouting report, or predicts an opponents' play in the huddle. Duane Ferrell will tell anyone that who wants to listen.
Georgia Tech and Maryland were tied in the final seconds of the 1986 ACC tournament semifinals. The crowd was deafening, as the two teams huddled around their coaching staffs. Maryland had the ball and time to run a potential game-winning play.
But, two decades later, Ferrell still has a good handle on what happened next.
"Bobby Cremins was our head coach and Perry Clark was our defensive coach," says Ferrell, a Baltimore native who passed up the chance to go to Maryland to go to Georgia Tech. "Perry had seen them run a play at the end of a game before, and he drew it up in the huddle.
"I was looking at their point guard, Keith Gatlin, take the ball out of bounds at mid-court. I took a look at everyone on the floor and they were lined up exactly how coach Clark drew it up. I don't know if anyone else realized it, but I didn't want to give it away that I knew. I knew the ball was going to be coming to Len Bias.
"Gatlin lobbed the ball inbounds, I beat Len to the ball, reached out and stole it. I tipped the ball out ahead of me. Gatlin was trying to catch me. All I was thinking was that I didn't want to kick the ball off my foot. I went up for the dunk, he grabbed my arm, but he wasn't able to stop me."
Where Is He Now? Ferrell is now the Washington Wizards director of player programs, serving as a mentor for some of the younger players on the team, and handling some assistant coach duties.
Siena vs. Boston University
March 11, 1989 It's a variation on the old question about the tree falling in the forest: If you make a buzzer-beater and there's no one there to cheer it, does it count?
|“||I don't think we even noticed that there was nobody in the arena, because we were so excited about going to the NCAAs ... (But) in the dream, there's more like 20,000 people. ”|
|— Steve McCoy,
former Siena player
Well, the 1989 North Atlantic Conference title game was played in the Hartford Civic Center, but other than the players, coaches, officials, broadcast crew and a few cardboard cutouts of celebrities, the building was empty. Siena played its final 10 games that season in front of empty arenas because of an outbreak of measles on campus that had left the team quarantined.
ESPN, however, was there to document a little history. And as luck would have it, the game between Siena and Boston University came down to the final seconds. And those final ticks saw Tom Huerter miss a shot from the top of the key. And, as simply as it sounds, Siena senior Steve McCoy grabbed the rebound and scored on a putback at the buzzer.
Normally, there would be pandemonium in the stands. But in this case, a few yelps carried into the empty rafters.
"I don't think we even noticed that there was nobody in the arena, because we were so excited about going to the NCAAs," says McCoy, whose team stunned Stanford in the opening round of that year's dance. "I think it may have even been an advantage for us, because we played all those games in front of nobody."
McCoy is one of many who'd always imagined making a buzzer-beater to win a championship. This one just came out a little bit differently than he imagined.
"In the dream, there's more like 20,000 people in the building and you're taking a fallaway 3-pointer," McCoy said. "I think every kid thinks like that. It's part of growing up with the sport."
Where Is He Now? McCoy is a sales manager for Reed Business Information, a publishing company, and lives in Mansfield, Mass. with his wife and three children.
Kentucky vs. Arizona
December 23, 1993
Listen closely, one can still hear Bill Raftery's echo in the Lahaina Civic Center left over from the 1993 Maui Invitational title game.
"Brassow! Brassow! Brassow!"
ESPN's colorful color man could only yell out the Kentucky guard's last name as he sat stunned at courtside and found himself in the midst of the pandemonium. The final moments of a classic finish between Kentucky and Arizona came down to a little bit of good fortune. But, sometimes a team just gets lucky on a buzzer-beater.
Kentucky had led Arizona for nearly the entire game, but trailed by one after a pair of free throws by Arizona guard Khalid Reeves with 5.5 seconds remaining. And in this case, there was no time for Brassow to think, only to react.
Brassow was never the go-to player on Rick Pitino's squad, but he was a reliable shooting guard who averaged nearly seven points a game during his collegiate career. His job after Reeves made the second free throw was to head down court as his team rushed the ball up the floor. Brassow also wasn't known as a leaper, but his jumping ability and long arms sure came in handy for the biggest moment of his career.
After Reeves made the second free throw, Kentucky panicked a little bit, pushing the ball upcourt quickly to Roderick Rhodes, who had time to dribble, but instead tossed up a 30-foot prayer from the right wing. Brassow, off just to the left of the basket, saw the shot bound off the rim, leaped up and reached back with his right arm as far as he could to tip the ball in.
"The play was actually supposed to go to Tony Delk to get the ball downcourt as quickly as he could," Brassow says. "The ball bounced perfectly off the rim and I just tapped it in. I was watching the play develop, just standing under the basket and I happened to be in the right spot. Thank goodness that I made the shot because I can't imagine being on that plane with Rick Pitino after a loss."
Where Is He Now? Brassow, who just turned 33, is a sales representative for Medtronic, which makes pacemakers and is based in Columbus, Ohio. His fiancÚ, Amy Hayes, is a ring announcer, and has appeared on ESPN's boxing coverage.
Bradley vs. SMS
March 3, 1996
Sometimes basketball's best moments are born out of the type of desperation that Bradley encountered in the final moments of the 1996 Missouri Valley Conference semifinals against Southwest Missouri State.
Bradley trailed by a point with seven seconds remaining and planned to get their best inside player, Deon Jackson, free off a screen in the paint. Jackson took a pass with his back to the basket about eight feet away, but the ball squirted out of his hands toward midcourt. Chaos ensued, as Jackson went to retrieve the ball, which was rolling out past the 3-point line.
"The play ran like it was supposed to be run," Jackson said. "But I fumbled the ball, lost it, and it started to bounce out to the 3-point line. I'm thinking, 'I gotta get a shot off.' So I ran after it with one of their guys, who stopped.
"When I got it, instead of turning to my left to shoot, I turned to my right, off-balance. With as much form as I could, I turned and shot all at once. It went in."
The cameras cut to Jackson mouthing the words "Oh my god!" over and over.
"I saw it go in, and then I ran in a circle around the court and into the locker room. I remember how stunned the Southwest Missouri guys were. They didn't even think it was possible that I could get a shot off."
Where Is He Now? Jackson is a social worker, living in Chicago. He has twin sons, Karson and Kieran Buckley. The shot won him an ESPY that year for college basketball's best play.
Rider vs. Wagner
March 9, 1993
Suber remembers everything about the final seconds of the 1993 NEC title game against Wagner. He can tell you what his reaction was when he saw the final play was diagrammed to use him -- as a decoy:
|As the buzzer sounds ...|
Here are some other memorable game-winning shots seen on ESPN/ESPN2 during the past 25 seasons of college basketball:
"That didn't sit well with me."
What he said to a teammate in the huddle during the final timeout:
"Give me the ball and we'll win."
And how many dribbles it took to get from the backcourt to the foul line:
"Four, which was my jersey number too. Four dribbles, four seconds remaining."
Suber made what is today known at Rider as "The Shot," the one that sent the Broncs into the NCAA Tournament, a buzzer-beating foul line jumper that lifted Rider to a 65-64 win. The fullcourt drive that turned a crushing defeat into the most memorable win in school history is often replayed on ESPN in the introductory tease to Championship Week coverage.
Though head coach Kevin Bannon's play was not called for him, both saw that he was not being guarded in the backcourt. That was a surprise considering that Suber was the league's top scorer and player of the year. Bannon and Suber exchanged a glance once Rider took the floor, and Suber took that as his cue to win or lose the game on his own. He took the inbounds pass and accelerated past three defenders as he crossed midcourt. There was no doubt in Suber's mind what he was going to do.
"You can't be afraid to miss a shot like that," Suber said, "And I missed a lot more of those then I made."
He wouldn't miss this one though, dropping a 15-footer right through the net.
"The thrill lasts to this day,'' Suber said. "It was like a moment that was frozen in time."
Where Is He Now? Suber, who played pro basketball briefly in New Zealand, is a salesman for Accuweather.com just outside of Philadelphia.
Kwan Johnson New Orleans vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
January 4, 1997
Tic Price has a knack for seeing miraculous buzzer-beater shots. And, when he was coaching New Orleans, his team had a knack for making them against Arkansas-Little Rock.
The regular-season rematch of the 1996 Sun Belt Conference title game between the two teams was tied in the final seconds. The previous year, New Orleans advanced to the NCAA Tournament on a finger roll from in close. It would have to go a greater distance this time. For one thing, the Privateers didn't even have the ball. But after Charles Koonce's layup was blocked, the ball pinballed to Johnson.
Johnson, who had sent the game into overtime with a buzzer-beating layup, took a couple of dribbles, actually cutting towards the sideline instead of straight upcourt, and chucked the ball towards the basket from 70 feet away.
Now, viewers at the time may have been a little confused. Either ESPN was a little late coming back from commercial, or the referees jumped the gun a bit, but the telecast came back just as Johnson's shot flew through the air. Replays, however, would confirm what happened.
And Price can still see the shot clearly in his mind, as he sees a similar one Les Henson made when both were teammates at Virginia Tech.
"Moments like those you don't forget," Price said. "It was heartbreak hotel for them and the thrill of victory for us."
Where Are They Now? Price is the head coach at McNeese State. Johnson, who won an ESPY for the shot, is playing professional basketball in the Philippines.
Mark Simon is a researcher for ESPN's college basketball telecasts. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org