THB, Banditos, Wayward and more confirmed for Cosmic Cocktail!

SHOT OF A LIFETIME

The Baltimore Sun

Keith Smart's kids had heard the stories about their father's most famous moment as a basketball player, the jump shot from the left wing at the Superdome that beat Syracuse and gave Indiana the 1987 NCAA championship.

They have seen the framed picture of Smart taking the shot hanging on the wall in their father's home office in Oakland, Calif., where Smart is in his fourth season as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, this year under Don Nelson.

But Smart's 8-year-old son, Jared, wanted to witness it for himself.

"We went into the garage and dug it [the tape] out and put it in the VCR," Smart, 42, said last week. "He was pretty excited. He can't picture me with hair."

Smart's hairline has receded, but the memories haven't in the two decades since he went from being the other guard on a Hoosiers team led by Steve Alford and coached by Bob Knight to a player whose legend in Bloomington and in college basketball history was secured that night in New Orleans.

When the Final Four reconvenes this weekend at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, players from Florida, UCLA, Georgetown and Ohio State will try to lead their respective teams to the championship. Despite how high-profile many of the players have become, Smart believes another unlikely hero could emerge.

"It makes the tournament real exciting because sometimes a no-name person can be in the center of attention," Smart said.

Smart, of course, isn't alone in that category.

Two years before Smart's heroics, a role player named Harold Jensen led Villanova to a huge upset over Georgetown at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Two years later, it was Rumeal Robinson clinching Michigan's championship win over Seton Hall at the Kingdome in Seattle with a couple of late free throws.

There are others since who never seemed to generate as much attention as they did during the Final Four.

Forgotten Rebel

In 1990, Nevada-Las Vegas guard Anderson Hunt scored 29 points in a 30-point win over Duke in the championship game and was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player as a sophomore.

After the Runnin' Rebels were upset by the Blue Devils in the 1991 semifinals, ruining what had been a perfect season, Hunt left school against the wishes of UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian.

Unlike teammates Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony, who were picked among the top 12 players, and George Ackles, who went early in the second round, Hunt went undrafted. He never played in the NBA.

Hunt, 37, blames himself for not working out much before the draft.

"I always thought my talent level would beat out someone else," said Hunt, an undersized shooting guard.

Hunt played professionally in the minor leagues and in Europe for several years. Now living in his hometown of Detroit and planning to return to Las Vegas next month, Hunt hopes to get his degree.

"I want to finish up school, but I've been saying that for the last two years," said Hunt, who has four children ranging from age 4 to 15. "I'm going to take a class just to get my feet wet. If I took two or three classes, I'd be fooling myself."

Hunt would like to talk with the current UNLV players about his experiences.

"I would tell them to polish their skills, work out," Hunt said. "Just stay in shape. That's the thing in my heart I didn't do."

No regrets

After leading Arizona to the national championship in 1997, Miles Simon returned for his senior year in Tucson and built on his success. He was a first-team All-American. But after deciding to skip the NBA's pre-draft workout camps, Simon slipped to the second round and wound up playing in only five games for the Orlando Magic.

Simon, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, went to Israel, Venezuela, Italy, Turkey and the Continental Basketball Association, where he was named the league's regular season and playoff Most Valuable Player after leading the Dakota Wizards to the championship in 2002.

"Sometimes it's just luck, for the NBA, there are [roster] numbers and things like that," said Simon, who last season returned to Arizona as an assistant coach under Lute Olson. "It's not that I didn't have the talent. I can't think of too many CBA MVPs that didn't get called up to the NBA."

Simon scored 30 points in the 1997 championship game, an 84-79 overtime win over favorite Kentucky. It was the third win by No. 4 seed Arizona over a top seed in the tournament. Even though he was part of two other championship teams - he also played on one in Italy - it was hard to match what happened at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

"When you're on top, you can't go any higher," said Simon, 31. "All you can try to do is stay on top, I guess."

Simon, who said he was the last cut for two other NBA teams, doesn't regret not getting much of a chance in the NBA.

"I don't worry about it too much," he said. "I experienced a lot of great things in basketball. I won championships in other places and got to meet great people and see parts of the world that I wouldn't have gotten to see. That's just the way it happened, that's the way it is."

No looking back

Smart, too, doesn't look back. A second-round draft pick of the Warriors who played two NBA games for the San Antonio Spurs in 1989, Smart used the experience of going to 14 different NBA camps as his postgraduate studies in learning how to become a coach.

"I made a decision that I was going to play as long as I could," said Smart, who played nine years in the CBA before becoming coach of that league's Fort Wayne Fury in 1997. "Some of the teams I played on, I was very fortunate in that the coaches allowed me - because I had played for Coach Knight - to show them different things. I knew the best way to gather a lot of information was to keep playing. I had the best seat in the house."

After moving up to the NBA as an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he briefly became the team's interim head coach after John Lucas was fired in 2003. Smart said what he did at Indiana, particularly that night in New Orleans, "lends a little more credibility when you're coaching these guys."

That shot has long been a part of Smart's life. A couple of months after hitting it, he got a tryout for the Pan American Games team. His roommate in Colorado Springs, Colo., was Derrick Coleman, who was coming off his freshman year at Syracuse and had set up Smart's heroics by missing the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line.

"We talked about a lot of things, but we never talked about that game," Smart said.

Smart never talked about it with Knight, either, but other people Smart has met over the past two decades keep bringing it up. Smart heard a story from a friend about a woman watching the game who promised her boyfriend that she'd marry him if Indiana won, and a father who quieted his young daughter by promising her a horse if she'd just let him watch the game.

"Not a day goes by when someone mentions it to me," Smart said. "It's always played on Classic Sports or what have you. Someone will tell me, 'I saw you last night.' I will try to remember where I was last night, and they'll say, 'I saw you on ESPN Classic.' "

don.markus@baltsun.com

Four players to watch in Atlanta

Chris Richard, Florida -- The 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior is usually the first big man off the bench. He leads the Gators' regulars with a .677 field-goal percentage and could be vital should Joakim Noah or Al Horford get into foul trouble.

Jonathan Wallace, Georgetown -- The 6-1 junior's scoring has gone up (19 vs. North Carolina in the regional final) and his turnovers have gone down (two in four games) in the tournament. He could get a lot of open looks for the Hoyas.

Ron Lewis, Ohio State -- With all the focus on freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr., the 6-4 senior guard has carried the Buckeyes for the past three tournament games, averaging nearly 25 points. If not for Lewis, they'd be home right now.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA -- The 6-8, 230-pound forward from Cameroon helped lead the Bruins to the 2006 final. A breakout season was expected, but he has shown only flashes. This big stage could be just what he needs.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
43°