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March blues: How it feels to be on the losing end of NCAA tournament greatness


He is the one everyone sees and few remember, a nearly invisible piece of history who stands at 6-foot-9.

Newspaper photos the next day revealed his attempt to create a different fate. His arms outstretched. Hands up as the ball neared the UCLA guard’s fingertips practically a foot shorter.

It’s the same in footage played so many times during the NCAA tournament over the years. Changing their feet to compete. Shooting those arms up. Straining to stop a 4.8 second miraculous finish in the making.

The ending never changes.

Tyus Edney’s shot always goes in. Derek Grimm’s regrets never go away.

If only the Missouri forward had jumped. If he had moved his hands half an inch toward the ball. If he had forgotten to cut his nails that week.

“I thought I shot him pretty hard,” Grimm said recently by phone of the 1995 play that changed so many lives, “but obviously not hard enough.”

Edney got his miracle finish en route to a national championship.

Never returning to the NCAA tournament during his last two college seasons, Grimm became part of a faded photo in someone else’s scrapbook.

Every year around this time, the 48-year-old revisits his haunting place in college basketball lore.

He’ll be in a bar watching the NCAA tournament when the topic invariably revolves around his playing days.

“Do you remember the Tyus Edney play?” Grimm will ask someone.

“Yes, yes”, comes the answer.

“Well, he shot me.”

Of course they don’t remember him. Attention always turns to the miracle workers of March.

Mouths dropped in Christian Laettner’s shot lifting Duke in 1992. Screams filled the air after He won the dunk from Lorenzo Charles for North Carolina State in 1983. Disbelief reigned over Edney’s coast-to-coast blur.

Does anyone remember Kentucky’s Deron Feldhaus raising his arm to challenge Laettner? That Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon failed to get Charles out? That Grimm’s best efforts weren’t enough against Edney?

Here’s the other side of the plays that make this the most memorable month in sports: March sadness. Every year, he remains on every court and infiltrates almost every locker room. Sixty-seven of the 68 NCAA tournament teams go home losers.

Even UCLA’s storied history at the event is filled with sadness. Bruins fans who revel in the image of Adam Morrison crying after Gonzaga’s epic collapse in 2006 shudder at the despair of their own heroes.

David Singleton watched helplessly two years ago as Jalen Suggs’ shooting on his outstretched arms somehow got into the basket to lift Gonzaga to victory. Kiki Vandeweghe crying in 1980 after missing a late layup against Louisville. Bill Walton leaves court in disgust after blowing a seven-point lead in a 1974 double-overtime loss to North Carolina State.

Grimm stood wide-eyed in disbelief inside the Boise State University Pavilion as the Bruins swept Edney into ecstasy on that multicolored court. Reserve forward Bob Myers, the future general manager of the Golden State Warriors, was the first teammate to catch up to Edney, lifting him triumphantly into the air.

At the far end of the court, 7-foot-tall Missouri twins Simeon and Sammy Haley fell to their knees in anguish in front of the team bench. Tears flooded the locker room. No one could really process any of it.

“I remember being like, wait, what just happened?” Grimm said about watching Edney’s improbable shot beat the odds. “I didn’t even know at first that he walked in and then literally half a second later, wow, he walked in and that’s it. It’s over.”

The worst day of his basketball career got off to a sinister start.

Grimm woke up on the morning of March 19, 1995 with flu-like symptoms. A temperature of more than 100 degrees. severe dehydration.

There were significant doubts about whether he would be able to play.

“I remember not going to target practice and feeling terrible,” Grimm said, “I wasn’t a big fan of needles, and they said, ‘Okay, we’ll put you in an IV,’ and I said, ‘If you think That could work.”

Rest and IV fluids, combined with resolve, were enough to get him into the arena for the start.

“I knew right away that I couldn’t miss that game,” he said. “I had to at least try.”

Missouri didn’t have a chance without the dynamic power forward who could hit 3-pointers, a stretch of four before the term was even invented. Grimm was his team’s third leading scorer and rebounder and also hit an impressive 47.5% of his 3-pointers.

The Tigers had returned to the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed after losing five of their last six games. A 65-60 win over Indiana in the first round saw Grimm witness another memorable moment from March when he caught part of Bobby Knight’s tirade to a tournament official who said the volatile Hoosiers coach would not attend the post-game press conference.

Facing the top-ranked and seeded Bruins in the second round two days later didn’t intimidate the Tigers. On the eve of the game, Grimm uttered seven words that couldn’t have been more prescient.

“We just have to stop their break,” he said.

“Very surprised that it has come this far. I remember something going through my head: just don’t foul, make it a tough shot for him.”

— Derek Grimm, on Tyus Edney’s winner

In a massive run game, Missouri built a nine-point cushion early in the second half before the Bruins put together 15 straight points. Grimm played well, shaking off symptoms from him. His 3-pointer with 3:49 left gave the Tigers a 72-69 lead.

The lead followed ping-pong. With Missouri trailing by one point and the clock shortened to less than 10 seconds, guard Kendrick Moore drove to the right side of the court, spinning near the foul line. A jumper pass found teammate Julian Winfield in the paint for a contested layup that gave the Tigers a 74-73 lead.

Was it enough? When UCLA called a timeout, with the Missouri players coming onto the field to celebrate, Grimm looked at his watch. The only thing standing between his team and the biggest tournament upset in school history was those 4.8 seconds.

UCLA coach Jim Harrick congratulates Tyus Edney after the Bruins defeated Oklahoma State in the Final Four in 1995.

(Susan Ragan/Associated Press)

In the Bruins’ group, coach Jim Harrick instructed Edney to walk the court and take the last shot. In the Tigers group, coach Norm Stewart’s plan was to disrupt the nervous point guard. Him slow down, make her change direction, eat up a precious second or two. Don’t make mistakes.

What happened next could only please one trainer while breaking countless hearts.

Circling in the backcourt, Edney broke into a run when he took Cameron Dollar’s tackle pass. Freely defended by the Tigers’ Jason Sutherland, Edney rocked his counterpart as he dribbled across half court with a behind-the-back dribble. He sliced ​​to the other side of the court and ran for the basket, a one-on-five fast break.

Grimm stepped forward to challenge Edney about four feet from the basket, the last line of defense.

“Very surprised that it got this far,” Grimm said. “I remember something going through my head: Just don’t foul, make it a tough shot for him.”

“I remember being excited after that game and being a little bit down for the next two weeks at school and just going, wow, that’s crazy.”

— Derek Grimm, after Tyus Edney’s winner

Twenty-eight years later, Edney said it was a textbook defense: hands up, wall up, make it hard to score more.

“Honestly, I think he did what he was supposed to do,” Edney said. “He was supposed to be there to make it difficult and kind of a no-foul competition.”

Faced with those long arms, Edney had to twist his body around Grimm to shoot above his fingertips. The ball bounced high off the backboard, caressing the front of the rim before falling through the net as the buzzer sounded.

Buoyed by his escape, UCLA won its next four games by an average of 12 points en route to the championship. Meanwhile, Grimm returned to campus with an incurable angst.

“I remember being excited after that game and being a little bit down for the next two weeks at school,” he said, “and I was just like, wow, that’s crazy.”

The shot made Edney something of a celebrity beyond his brief NBA career. About to walk into a clothing store in Beverly Hills, he was once recognized by heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson after making small talk.

“He said, ‘I know who you are, man,’” Edney said, recalling the exchange.

Grimm faded into relative anonymity, the Tigers attending the National Invitation Tournament in his junior year before finishing with a losing record in his final college season. He never imagined that the play involving Edney would be his last on the biggest stage in college basketball.

Derek Grimm sits in a chair, smiling.

After college, Derek Grimm played briefly in the NBA before embarking on a journeyman playing career.

(Derek Grimm)

“I just took it for granted that he was young and naive,” Grimm said, “that we’d probably come back for two more shots at the tournament.”

After going undrafted, Grimm played in nine games with the Sacramento Kings during the 1997-98 season before beginning his journeyman career with the Continental Basketball Assn. and abroad.

“Anyone who pays me,” said Grimm, who has rostered teams in the Philippines, Turkey, Kosovo and Japan, among other places. “I went and played for a while.”

Eventually moving back to his hometown of Morton, Ill., Grimm now owns some commercial and residential properties in addition to running Grimm’s Inc., an embroidery and screen printing business, along with his wife, Jenna.

Except for seeing Edney’s shot repeated during the NCAA tournament, Grimm hasn’t been back to see it again. It doesn’t make sense, really.

“There’s not much you can do about it,” he said with a smile.

Grimm’s only consolation is that the Bruins won the national championship, which means he was tangentially involved in something special.

“It’s amazing to be a part of something so iconic,” he said, “even if you’re on the losing end.”

Grimm and Edney never set foot on the same court again despite overlapping professional careers: Edney spent two seasons with the Kings prior to Grimm’s arrival and also played overseas for many years. Edney is now an assistant to San Diego coach Steve Lavin, who was part of Harrick’s staff that penned the most beloved play in UCLA history.

This month, Edney asked a reporter how Grimm felt about the play and was told he was a good sport despite deep-seated angst.

“Good,” Edney said. “So if I run into him, can we laugh and have a drink?”

Probably yes, even if some of the laughter might just be polite.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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