Great Scott! - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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Great Scott!

That's what Scotty Thurman thought of as he squeezed the trigger
on the shot that would win Arkansas its first NCAA basketball
championship. Not his coach, Nolan Richardson, who at the time was a
mere 52 ticks from the incontrovertible respect he had long deserved.
Not the team's two other most potent offensive forces -- Corliss
(Big Nasty) Williamson, the human jackhammer under the basket, and
Corey Beck, the human jackrabbit from baseline to baseline. Not the
Razorbacks' First Fan, President Clinton, who might have preferred a
dinner date with Bob Dole to his sweaty palpitations that night in
Charlotte Coliseum. Not the fabled opponent (Duke) or the score
(70-70) or the distance from the hoop (22 feet) or the time remaining
on the shot clock (one second).
No. When he caught the pass from Dwight Stewart on the right wing
and saw Duke's 6 ft. 8 in. string bean, Antonio Lang, launch at him,
extending a seemingly elastic right arm, Thurman's mind raced back to
a drill his coach at Ruston (La.) High used to employ during
practices. There Thurman learned to arc his shot high, mortarlike, to
avoid the humiliation of being snuffed by a defender wielding a
housekeeping implement. Lang had left the ground sure he would at
least rattle Thurman, if not reject his prayer outright, but
Thurman's shot fell true from the sky, glancing the back of the rim
as it whispered through the net. When Arkansans from Hiwasse to
Hudspeth reminisce years from now about the Razorbacks' 76-72
triumph, they may not recall how the game was played or where the
President sat, but they will, to a person, carry the glorious image
of Thurman's Three.
Thurman, though, will remember a broom. Not the business end of
the broom, mind you, which could serve as a nice symbol for the way
Arkansas swept through the tournament and tidied up the debris left
by 23 (23!) Blue Devil turnovers, converting them into 24 points. But
the stick -- something sturdy and reliable and not much bigger around
than the 6 ft. 6 in., 205-pound Thurman -- wielded in an age-old
drill that only the coolest player would recall in a split second of
such enormousness.
''When I first caught the ball, I thought the shot clock was going
to run out,'' recalled Thurman. ''I saw three seconds on the clock
when Corey passed the ball to Dwight, so I knew it had to be less
than that. Lang's whole body was in my face. I don't think he thought
I could get the shot off that quick.''
Said Lang, ''I thought I would get a piece of it; I thought I'd
make the shot so difficult that he wouldn't nail it. Obviously, what
I thought didn't happen. I'll probably be on every highlight reel
from now till next year.'' Duke's star, guard Grant Hill, didn't
believe that Thurman had much of a chance of making such a
difficult shot, either. ''I'd want him to shoot that shot a million
times,'' said Hill afterward.
That the championship game would effectively end on such a
memorable note seemed fitting. It was a one-in-a-million game that
summoned up the best of both sides. Even after Thurman's dagger, the
Blue Devils almost rose and planted one themselves. With 37 seconds
remaining Duke's sophomore guard, Chris Collins, who had found the
range on two straight treys in the second half, picked up a loose
ball and rapid-fired a 25-footer from the top of the key that would
have tied the score. The shot lipped out. ''That shot felt better
than any one I'd taken the whole game,'' said Collins, the son of
former NBA All-Star Doug Collins. ''If that had gone down, it might
have been a different story.''
The story, though, was Arkansas. Coming back from a 48-38
second-half deficit in the heart of ACC country to defeat Duke made
the Razorbacks' victory even more impressive. After all, this had
been the Duke decade. It's even possible to make a comparison no one
thought drawable only a few years ago: Duke's success from 1985 to
'94 is a feat to rival UCLA's run between 1964 and '73. John Wooden's
Bruins won the national championship in nine of those 10 seasons. But
a team needed only four victories to win an NCAA crown back then.
Nowadays it needs six; four merely puts a team in the Final Four.
Duke has won at least four consecutive NCAA tournament games in seven
of the past nine years -- and sometimes five, and sometimes six.
What's more, the Blue Devils have done this in an environment of more
pressure and more parity than UCLA encountered, while competing in
the ACC, the most consistently competitive league in the land.
In Mike Krzyzewski, Richardson was facing the man many observers
regard as the game's preeminent coach. Krzyzewski's belief in
exploring his own feelings and those of his players has created a
warm, nurturing environment in Durham. For Coach K this approach
begins at home. When the Blue Devils failed to reach the national
title game last season for the first time in five years, he was
heartened by the youngest of his four daughters. While the
Krzyzewskis were flying home from Chicago, where Duke had lost a
second-round game to California, Jamie, who was 12 at the time,
called a family meeting for the next day. She presented graphs and
charts to show that acquiring a puppy would increase their collective
happiness by precisely 17%. Two days later the Krzyzewskis took in
a nine-week-old black Labrador and named him Defense. All this season
the first thing Coach K did upon coming home from the office was take
a few licks to the face.
Mrs. K, Mickie, says that her husband's newfound sensitivity has
been vital to motivating his troops. ''The players we get at Duke,''
she says, ''you can't just give them the ball and say, 'Go out and
kick butt.' ''
You especially can't tell that to the 6 ft. 8 in. Hill. Despite
Krzyzewski calling him the greatest player he has coached -- placing
him at the top of a formidable list that includes Danny Ferry, Bobby
Hurley and Christian Laettner -- Hill prefers to use his multiple
skills to lift his teammates rather than to take over a game. Before
the season Hill told his father, Calvin, the former NFL All-Pro
running back, ''If I score in the 20's, we'll just lose a lot of
close games, and the young guys won't develop.''
Sure enough, Hill wound up averaging 18.1 points and 5.2 assists
this season, and by March freshman Jeff Capel had emerged as a pretty
fair point guard. ''Grant wants to be a superstar,'' Coach K says.
''But he doesn't want to be separate from his team. This year he has
managed to do both.''
Only 20 seconds after the tip-off in the championship game, Hill
soared for a defensive rebound, got jostled and landed hard on his
back. He returned 53 seconds later and wound up playing a total of 38
minutes, though he said his back did stiffen up at halftime. The Hogs
gave him no sympathy and no quarter, sending fresh defenders -- from
guards Beck, Clint McDaniel and Davor Rimac to forwards Williamson
and Ken Biley -- to cover him. Worn down by trying to both control
the defensive glass and handle the Arkansas press, Hill was hectored
into nine turnovers, scored only 12 points and was unable to take
command of the court as he had in Duke's 70-65 semifinal victory over
Florida. ''I think Grant got fatigued,'' said Thurman. ''I saw him
pulling his shorts every time someone stepped to the free throw
Richardson's plan of attack was simple: Pound it inside to
Williamson. But Big Nasty struggled early on, as stiff defense by
Duke's 6 ft. 11 in. center, Cherokee Parks, forced him to clang some
point-blank bank shots. ''I was starting to get out of my game
mentally, so I had to reach down and keep playing hard,'' said
Williamson, who ended up with 23 points.
Meanwhile the 6 ft. 2 in. Beck was lifting the Razorbacks with his
tireless work on the boards -- he finished with a team-high 10
boards -- and his fearless drives to the hole against Capel. Thurman,
who had been rather quiet in the semi, started to make some noise
too, just before halftime. He has always kept his mouth in gear,
whether playing the tuba at Ruston High or serving as president of
that school's student council or negotiating on the court. Before
games he'll go up to the referees and tell them straight up: ''I just
want you to know that I'm gonna talk. I'm gonna talk to you, I'm
gonna talk to myself, and I'm gonna talk to other people. I'm not
gonna say anything vulgar. But I'm gonna talk. That's just the way I
With Arkansas trailing 33-31 late in the first half, Thurman
complained to ref Jim Burr about Lang's defense. ''Just play, O.K.?''
Burr barked back. ''Don't be coming to me all night.'' Thurman didn't
reply, except to toss in a three-pointer the next time he touched the
ball, which gave the Hogs a one-point lead at intermission. At the
time it seemed unlikely that Thurman would make a more important
Arkansas didn't take long to lose its advantage, however. Early in
the second half the Blue Devils claimed a 10-point lead on a 13-0
run, a streak that prompted the Duke students to taunt the Razorbacks
with chants of ''Stu- pid, stu-pid.'' Richardson called timeout with
17:02 to play. He urged his team to pass the ball more to make the
Blue Devils expend more energy on defense and to create more room
inside for Big Nasty. Over the next 8:54, Arkansas forced nine
turnovers and outscored Duke 21-6 to open up a five-point spread.
Still, the Blue Devils didn't fold. Collins buried a three-pointer to
put Duke in front 63-62, but then Beck converted two free throws.
The Razorbacks would not trail again.
Which is not to say that they would lead the rest of the way. With
the Hogs up 70-67, Richardson went to a spread offense, but Stewart
missed a three and Hill nailed one to knot the game with 1:15 left.
Timeout, Arkansas.
When play resumed, Stewart took the inbounds pass and tossed the
ball to Beck, who dribbled to the left wing. He passed to McDaniel,
who fed the ball back to Beck with 1:00 remaining. Beck drove toward
the basket and kicked the ball out to Stewart at the top of the key.
Despite missing all five of his three-point attempts to that point, a
few of them egregiously, Stewart was ready to fire off another one.
''I was squaring up, but I fumbled the ball,'' he said after the
game. ''And I saw Scotty was open.''
Open was a temporary condition, however, as Lang, Thurman's
first-half nemesis, lunged at him. But with one second on the shot
clock, Thurman, broomstick in mind, dipped his elbow and released his
J. ''People expect him to jump and shoot,'' says Rimac, who guards
Thurman in practice. ''But Scotty just lets it go. He doesn't shoot
after he jumps. He jumps into his shot.''
Having walked it, Thurman could now talk it. In fact, the whole
team could. It's preposterous to suggest that a team that was picked
No. 3 in the preseason, a team that was voted No. 1 in nine weeks of
the regular season (more than any other team), a team that appeared
on national television 11 times (not including Nightline on April 1),
a team that was favored in all six of its NCAA tournament games, a
team whose coach was voted Coach of the Year and, finally, a team
that the leader of the free world rearranged his schedule to watch
has been slighted somehow. But that is how this team felt all season.
Thurman could have been speaking for all his teammates and his coach
when, upon bottoming out the game-winner, he turned toward the
reporters on press row and the multitudes in the stands and yelled,
''You're surprised, huh?'' Surprised? No. Impressed? Yes.
A few nervous minutes later, after McDaniel had netted a key free
throw, and Collins and Capel had each missed a tough shot that could
have made the final seconds a lot more troublesome for Arkansas,
Thurman and the rest of the Hogs were national champions, swamping
the court and chanting, ''Are you ready for a showtime.'' Beck
spotted Williamson and latched on. ''I just grabbed him and hugged
him and told him I loved him,'' Beck recalled.
Later, after the President had come into the locker room to
high-five his home-state team, Lang entered and offered his
congratulations. ''All credit to Arkansas,'' he would say. ''The game
is played in spurts, and I guess they outspurted us.''
Williamson, who was voted the tournament's Most Outstanding
Player, sat in front of his locker and spoke of Richardson. ''This is
something Coach has worked so hard for and something he has
deserved,'' he said. ''We're so happy for him.''
Williamson has a chance to put the Nasty in Dynasty. He says that
he plans to be back next season, as will all the other Razorbacks
except the two seniors, Biley and Roger Crawford. In fact, Arkansas
will be the first national champion since UCLA in 1967 to retain all
five regular starters. ''I think we have half the respect we
deserve,'' said Beck. ''We have to come back and win it again next
year to get the other half.''
You can't help wonder what Thurman will be thinking about then,
and what he will have to say.