DENVER — Time is gray hair. It’s grown-up kids. It’s dreams, stumbles, long days and fast years.
Twenty-five years of basketball time meandered through the hallways inside Ball Arena on Thursday. A hoops family, an all-time moment, roads less traveled and two brothers still in the game.
And me. I haven’t had an occasion to see Bryce Drew or Scott Drew, haven’t spoken to them, haven’t asked a question of them since 1998. But on March 13, 1998, Bryce Drew authored one of the NCAA tournament moments that has since made most every list of Cinderellas, upsets, remember-whens and “OMG where were you?” moments of the tournament.
“We definitely didn’t know [it would be remembered]. We had a group of six seniors, it was our third consecutive NCAA tournament, and we had lost the previous two years,” Bryce Drew, now Grand Canyon University coach, said Thursday. “When we won that game, we were just so happy, because that was our big goal going into that season, was win a game in the tournament. … We had finally accomplished that after three years, just so excited about that.”
Fire up the search engines for the particulars: Inside the Myriad Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Valparaiso — with Bryce Drew as its star guard, Scott Drew as an assistant coach and their father, Homer Drew, as the longtime head coach — was a 12-point underdog to Ole Miss.
The feisty upstarts then did what so many do in this annual event — they sent casual fans searching for maps to find a northwest Indiana town and pushed one of the big-conference outfits to the edge. Trailing 69-67, Bryce Drew had missed a 3-point attempt with roughly five seconds left in the game.
Mississippi’s Ansu Sesay was fouled on the rebound. Sesay missed his first free throw, and Homer Drew then called a timeout to draw up what he later gleefully revealed to the world was a play he called “Pacer.”
Sesay then missed the second free throw, and the battle for the loose ball on the rebound went off Mississippi’s Keith Carter with 2.5 seconds left. The rest? Well, the rest has been played over and over again.
I’ve seen it probably 30 times over the years, most every time glass slippers and March are in the same sentence, or when some proof is needed about any given day. Jamie Sykes threw the in-bounds pass just past midcourt, and a leaping Bill Jenkins tapped the ball to Bryce Drew, who then made the heave for the win. Pacer was, and still is, history.
“Twenty-five years makes me feel a lot older. Can’t believe how quick time flies … an unbelievable March Madness memory,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said Thursday. “A lot of times your biggest moments you want to share with family, and I was able to do that.”
I always see the blurry image of a much younger me, sitting courtside, a passenger on the wild ride as a football writer for The Tennessean who lucked into a front-row seat for a slice of basketball history. I was just a few seats away from Valparaiso’s play-by-play man, Todd Ickow, and still remember him shouting near the top of his lungs, “The kid performs another miracle!” toward the mosh pit of humanity celebrating a miracle a few feet away with current Baylor assistant, then Valpo freshman guard, Jared Nuness on the top.
Apologies to Ickow if those weren’t the exact words, but it’s how I will always remember it, how I tell the story, even if folks have heard it and roll their eyes again.
Bryce Drew has his Grand Canyon team at Ball Arena, and the Western Athletic Conference champs will face Gonzaga on Friday in drive time (7:35 p.m. ET). Scott Drew has his Baylor team at Ball as well, as the Bears will face UC Santa Barbara in Friday’s first game on site (1:30 p.m. ET). Their dad, Homer, and their mom, Janet, will be in the seats.
“I know they get asked a lot more than I do,” Scott Drew said of his brother and his dad. “At the same time I know my dad, a Hall of Fame coach. It was great Valpo’s platform grew a lot. … My dad is somebody who doesn’t care about accolades, awards, he just wants to serve his players and always has, always does, still does to this day, with jobs, marital, career advice, anything. It was great as a big brother to see your little brother hit that shot, great to hear people talk positively about your dad.
“… None of our guys were born when Bryce hit that shot. That makes me feel old.”
Sports moments are funny in some ways, often combinations of ultimate goals fulfilled and some burden as well. Current Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller has often said, in quiet moments, he will always cherish having had his best athletic day as a Super Bowl MVP but that there is a part of him that feels differently. “You sit and it’s everything you dreamed about, when you’re a kid and the clock is going 3, 2, 1,” he said. “But there is a part of you, you know, where you don’t want that to be the highest point. You want it again. Maybe you get it, maybe you don’t, but it’s always a part of you and a little piece of you that doesn’t want it to be it, you know?”
My dad, who has been gone since 1995 because cancer sucks, used to laugh that I saved every credential of every game, every season, every event, even a few with “Daily Illini” typed across them. And then he’d ask me to pull a few out, see if I could remember something about the teams and the dates printed on the front.
I dug out the Oklahoma City credential this week. It still looks good, the sticker with my name still a little crooked, No. 283 from whatever pile it was in before it was handed to me. And for that one, it was easy to remember something — the pass, the shot, the mayhem, joy and athletic sorrow at an intersection with a wood floor.
“We never dreamt it would be 25 years later … just a special time, a special memory,” Bryce Drew said. “It was a while ago. When it’s an anniversary, they [usually] don’t give it a number. … Seems a lot older when you put a number on it.”