The best moment in college sports happens at about midnight on a Monday in April. Greg Gumbel sits at a desk in a half-empty stadium. The nets behind him have been cut down. The confetti has not yet been cleaned up.
“And now,” Gumbel says, “we leave you with ‘One Shining Moment.’”
And then CBS plays the corniest, sappiest, most terrible song.
And millions of Americans — myself included — start crying for no apparent reason.
Here’s the thing: I watch a lot of sports. I see a lot of highlights. I do not cry every time I see a “SportsCenter” Top 10 list.
But this song — played over video taken at what, for most of these competitors, is the exact apex of their basketball careers — just crushes me. It always does.
So here’s to those who star in that montage. Here’s to the legends, the heroes, the greats who never made it past that big stage in March. The NBA wasn’t for you, so here’s to your one shining moment.
That speed! That vision! That bright orange headband! Sports Illustrated called him “the One-Man Fast Break,” and along with Deron Williams, he led the Illini to the national championship game in 2005.
Brown played in 68 NBA games over four seasons before moving abroad. He now plays in Turkey.
Gerry McNamara won a national championship as a freshman. He led his team to a Sweet 16 as a sophomore. But as a senior, it’s his run at Madison Square Garden — in which McNamara carried the Orange to a Big East championship, then donned an “Overrated?!!” shirt for critics — that cemented his reputation.
After a few years playing overseas, McNamara returned to Syracuse as an assistant coach.
3. Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
In 2006, Villanova’s four-guard offense took the Wildcats all the way to the Elite Eight. That team graduated. Then Scottie Reynolds took over.
For the next four years, one guard was enough for Villanova.
Reynolds earned Big East Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman. The next year, he led Nova to the Sweet 16. The year after that, he hit a clutch layup to send his team to the Final Four.
He has since grown out his facial hair and is playing in Italy.
4. Jon Scheyer, Duke
Jon Scheyer showed up at Duke as a white guy who could shoot. And Duke had just gotten four years out of another white guy with a pretty good shot: J.J. Redick. That’s a hard act to follow, but Scheyer was able to build his own legacy at Duke: winning a national title, finishing in the top 10 on the school’s all-time scoring list, and launching the Scheyerface meme heard ‘round the ACC.
5. Drew Nicholas, Maryland
Drew Nicholas spent three years as Juan Dixon’s understudy at Maryland. Then, his senior year, he gave Terps fans two great buzzer beaters: One, at NC State in the final weeks of the season; and a second, to steal a win against UNC-Wilmington in the NCAA Tournament.
He went to Europe, where he continued his history of making unlikely shots. He was most recently seen playing in Russia, but he was released by CSKA Moscow in November.
6. Brett Blizzard, UNC Wilmington
Brett Blizzard was on the losing end of that shot by Drew Nicholas. But still: Blizzard singlehandedly put Wilmington on the map. (And in more ways than one. When he was a freshman, a team charter accidentally flew to the wrong Wilmington.)
Blizzard remains one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball history. He shot 42.4% from deep for his career, and he led his team to an upset of fourth-seeded USC in the 2002 tournament.
He played in Italy before returning to Wilmington to set up a basketball academy.
7. Ali Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa
Ali Farokhmanesh: A name we can’t spell, a shot we can’t forget. He’s responsible for one of the great “No no no no no NO NO YESSSSSSSS!!!” moments in March Madness history.
He’s now playing in Europe for Austria’s WBC Kraftwerk Wels.
8. T.J. Sorrentine, Vermont
Before there was Ali Farokhmanesh, there was T.J. Sorrentine, whose 30-foot shot to beat Syracuse was forever immortalized by the great Gus Johnson. The win capped the best season in school history — and one of the best ever by any school in the America East conference.
Sorrentine played professionally in Europe and is now an assistant coach at Brown.
9. Ben Woodside, North Dakota State
Ben Woodside was part of a North Dakota State team that moved up from Division II to Division I. Why? Because the Bison had dreams of making the NCAA Tournament.
And under Woodside, they did — in their very first year of eligibility. Then a senior, Woodside hit the game-winning jumper to win the Horizon League. Then, in a first-round loss against Kansas, Woodside scored 37.
He’s also one of just a handful of players to ever score 60 points in a college game.
10. Randal Falker, Southern Illinois
Randal Falker played during a time when many college basketball fans actually knew what a Saluki was. (The Southern Illinois mascot is an Egyptian dog.) An undersized forward with oversized dreadlocks, Falker led his team to a top 15 ranking and the Sweet 16. The Salukis haven’t been to the postseason since Falker left the school.
Falker now plays for Besiktas in Turkey, the place where Allen Iverson once finished out his career.
11. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Josh Harrellson played 88 minutes in his junior year at Kentucky. So it came as a surprise when Harrellson suddenly became a key contributor on the 2010-11 Kentucky team that included future NBA talent like Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins. He averaged nearly 29 minutes a game that season, leading Kentucky to an Elite Eight.
13. Jai Lewis, George Mason
Jai Lewis — all 6 feet 7 inches, 275 lbs. of him — is partially responsible for one of the great Cinderella runs in NCAA history. His 20 points and 7 rebounds against UConn sent George Mason to the Final Four.
14. Omar Samhan, Saint Mary’s
There isn’t an Omar Samhan moment that stands out, maybe aside from the time a Samhan basket made Bill Raftery call out, “Oh, goodness, bring me a dream!” Sandman references aside, the Saint Mary’s big man was a quietly brilliant player, averaging 21.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game his senior year. He scored 32 points to lead the Gaels to an upset of no. 2-seeded Villanova, and a berth in the Sweet 16.
Samhan apparently lives in Las Vegas and was recently spotted playing a game of 1-on-2 versus Criss Angel and Flavor Flav.
Sean May’s 2005 Final Four: 48 points, 17 rebounds, 1 Most Outstanding Player trophy, 1 national championship victory. Not bad for a big man who was, the year before, was being called “Cookie Monster.”
May played 119 uneventful NBA games for two teams. He now plays in France along with former UNC standout Jawad Williams. May also posts occasionally to Tumblr about how cold he is.
16. Matt Howard, Butler
Matt Howard was a key cog Butler’s first Final Four run, and his tip-in at the buzzer against Old Dominion helped propel the Bulldogs to their second Final Four. His senior year, the 6-foot-8-inch forward averaged 16.4 points and 7.7. rebounds per game while shooting 39.8 percent from 3.
17. Derek Raivio, Gonzaga
Raivio was a guard who shot with remarkable accuracy from deep (41.6% for his career) and from the line (92.7% from the stripe). In tandem with Adam Morrison, he was part of a Zags team that made four NCAA Tournaments, three of which the Bulldogs entered as a 3-seed or higher.
18. Lee Humphrey, Florida
Lee Humphrey was part of two national championships at Florida, and he had the perfect role for those teams. When Joakim Noah and Al Horford had worn you out down low, and when Corey Brewer had frustrated you with his mid-range game, Lee Humphrey was there, standing somewhere in the corner, waiting to deliver a dagger 3. No one in NCAA Tournament history has made as many 3s as Lee Humphrey has. (He made 47.) He shot 44.4 percent from 3 for his career.
19. Keiton Page, Oklahoma State
Keiton Page was 5 feet 7 inches, 165 lbs. He grew up in a town called Pawnee. As a senior in high school, he averaged 44.4 points per game. He decided to stay in Oklahoma and play for the school 30 minutes away.
Keiton Page just sounds like the lead character in a straight-to-DVD film about basketball in the Midwest, doesn’t he? The Danny Woodhead/David Eckstein story, adapted to the hardwood?
And that’s what the media turned Page into during his four years. But fluff pieces about “heart” aside, Page was also a really good player. His senior year against Texas, he scored 40 points, including 20 of 20 from the free-throw line.
20. Isma’il Muhammad, Georgia Tech
Isma’il Muhammad did one thing incredibly well: He dunked. College basketball hasn’t seen a player so adept at the two-handed dunk since Muhammad left Georgia Tech. The problem was, he rarely did anything but dunk. One draft site compared him to Desmond Mason — with the caveat that he needed to learn how to shoot first.
21. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, George Washington
Pops Mensah-Bonsu — full name, Nana Papa Yaw Dwene Mensah-Bonsu — didn’t blow opponents away with his offensive game. But he ranked consistently among the nation’s best rebounders and shot-blockers, and he was a weekly staple on “SportsCenter.” He was a big reason why GW was ranked as high as no. 6 during his senior year.
Plus, he had that name.
Mensah-Bonsu was mostly recently seen playing for England during the London Olympics.
22. Kevin Pittsnogle, West Virginia
There are really only two players in West Virginia basketball history who stand out. One is Jerry West, a Hall of Famer and the man who inspired the NBA logo. The other is Kevin Pittsnogle, an icon for totally different reasons.
Pittsnogle was 6 feet 11 inches. He was heavily tattooed. He was from West Virginia. He shot 41.1% from 3. He led West Virginia to a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight.
And the name. For a few short seasons, “You Got Pittsnoggled” was a thing in our lives, and it was wonderful. Pittsnogle played in the D-League for a few seasons. He was most recently spotted teaching middle school in West Virginia.
Jeremy Lin had all the ingredients of a great March Madness underdog hero. He was a Taiwanese-American who’d been passed up by his big-time hometown team, Stanford. He played a thrilling offensive game that combined all-out drives to the basket with sick no-look passing. And he had a knack for the big moment that saw him put up 30 in a game against powerhouse UConn. And yet, he never made the NCAA Tournament to fulfill his destiny as an out-of-nowhere star. Shame.
I wonder what happened to that guy? Probably playing in France or something.
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