Kragthorpe: NCAA memories stick with Jazz players, coaches
Butler star Gordon Hayward rode silently in a golf cart in a football stadium in Indianapolis, 12 years after Alex Jensen and his Utah teammates paraded through downtown Salt Lake City.
They already had arrived at the same destination: second place.
The Jazz have eight NCAA basketball championship game contestants among current players and assistant coaches. The list includes three winners Sidney Lowe with North Carolina State in 1983, Marvin Williams with North Carolina in 2005 and Brandon Rush with Kansas in 2008.
This story is about the Jazz's five losers, and what it's like to live with the experience of coming so close. Only one of them launched a last-second, win-or-lose shot, as Hayward did against Duke in 2010, but they all remember the emotions involved with advancing after five tournament victories and then falling short of the ultimate prize.
"A combination of the best feeling ever and the worst feeling ever," said Jensen, a Jazz player development assistant.
They're the ones who trudged off the court, appearing as the extras in the "One Shining Moment" montage that always ends with the champions celebrating.
Whether the memories now stretch 34 years, as with Mike Sanders of UCLA, or one year, for Trey Burke of Michigan, those title games include moments they would like to replay. Yet they loved being on that stage, having that opportunity and sharing it with their teammates.
Hayward understandably will be the last of the five to get over his loss. His half-court shot would have been immortalized, if it had not banked too hard off the backboard and fallen off the front rim. Actually, it will be replayed forever, and he'll be asked to relive it every April.
"I think later in life, I'll look back and [say] we had a hell of a run," Hayward said, "but it's still a pretty bitter taste in my mouth."
Hayward's enduring memory is being shuttled to the postgame news conference with teammate Shelvin Mack, and how "neither of us said a word."
Sanders, a Jazz assistant coach, will always remember how UCLA coach Larry Brown spent most of a timeout late in the game praising the Bruins' effort, telling them, "If you continue in life like that, you're going to be successful."
In Jefferson's case, Arizona's NCAA runner-up finish was followed by his losses with New Jersey in consecutive NBA Finals and a semifinal upset with the 2004 U.S. Olympic team all in a four-year sequence. "You don't go into depression," Jefferson said. "The whole tournament run was a positive one."
The memories are fresh for Burke, who led Michigan to the championship game last April, losing to Louisville. The mixture of his brilliant, 24-point performance and the Wolverines' unlikely run to the title game make the experience healthy. "It was definitely a fun time," he said. "After the game, you think about what you could have done to win the game, but there's definitely not any regrets. â¦ It was a great game, in my opinion."
That's true of all eight championship games involving the current Jazz personnel, with a biggest margin of 10 points. Utah's 1998 loss to Kentucky is memorable because of the Wildcats' comeback from 12 points down, as of early in the second half, and because of the ensuing tributes to the team. The Utes were greeted with a rally at the Huntsman Center upon their return, followed by a parade the next day.
That's when it hit home to Jensen about what his team had achieved. "You didn't really realize it was as big of a deal as it was," Jensen said, recalling how thousands of fans lined the seven-block route along South Temple and 200 East to the City-County Building. "At the same time, in the back of your mind, you always have the what-if: This would have been a much better parade, if we had won."
Results for current Jazz players and assistant coaches in NCAA championship games:
Year Player, school Result
1980 Mike Sanders, UCLA Louisville 59, UCLA 54 Darrell Griffith scores 23 points for Louisville
1983 Sidney Lowe, N.C. State N.C. State 54, Houston 52 Lowe teams with Thurl Bailey in historic upset
1998 Alex Jensen, Utah Kentucky 78, Utah 69 Jensen scores 14 points but Utes fade in end
2001 Richard Jefferson, Arizona Duke 82, Arizona 72 Wildcats lose to Carlos Boozer's Blue Devils
2005 Marvin Williams, North Carolina UNC 75, Illinois 70 Tar Heels beat Deron Williams' Illini
2008 Brandon Rush, Kansas Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT) Rush scores 12 points as Jayhawks rally
2010 Gordon Hayward, Butler Duke 61, Butler 59 Hayward goes 2-for-11, with two misses in last five seconds
2013 Trey Burke, Michigan Louisville 82, Michigan 76 Burke scores 24 points in defeat