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Kragthorpe: Shawn Bradley, Ryan Cuff and a game that ‘never ends’
Prep basketball » 25 years later, Emery and Richfield’s 2A showdown remains unforgettable
First Published Mar 03 2014 11:15 am • Last Updated Mar 04 2014 05:16 pm

Castle Dale • After the Emery Spartans returned to town with the state championship trophy, celebrating with fans who packed the school’s tiny gym, someone asked Steven Gordon to relive the winning shot.

Wouldn’t you know, he made it again.

At a glance

Where are they now?

Participants in the 1989 Emery-Richfield 1989 state championship basketball game and what they are doing today:

Shawn Bradley, Emery center — Lives in Murray; board president, West Ridge Academy; co-owner of ranch in Uinta Basin after playing one season at BYU and 12 years in the NBA.

Ryan Cuff, Richfield guard — Lives in St. George; coaches basketball and teaches Spanish and health at Dixie High School after attending BYU, Arizona State and Weber State and playing professionally overseas.

Troy Brown, Richfield forward — Lives in Pleasant Grove; LDS seminary teacher at Orem High School and real estate agent.

Steven Gordon, Emery guard — Lives in Huntington; Emery assistant principal and baseball coach.

Todd Jeffs, Emery coach — Lives in Castle Dale; just completed his 26th season as Emery’s head basketball coach, following three years as an assistant.

Dewain Peterson, Richfield coach — Lives in Richfield, retired from teaching; coached basketball six more years after 1988-89 season.

Jim Sheets, Richfield guard — Lives in Holladay; LDS Hospital CEO.

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Gordon’s 45-foot, 3-point shot, banking into the basket just before the buzzer sounded in overtime, ended one of the greatest games in Utah high school basketball history: Emery 84, Richfield 83, on March 4, 1989, in Cedar City.

Richfield forward Troy Brown marveled how the game keeps resurfacing in his life after 25 years. "It just never ends," said Brown, whose two free throws with six seconds left would have won the game, if not for Gordon.

The matchup featured Emery center Shawn Bradley and Richfield guard Ryan Cuff. Bradley, then a 7-foot-4, 185-pound junior, was among the country’s top college recruits. All you need to know about Cuff’s aura in central Utah was a rival coach’s written advice to his players: "Ryan Cuff is not God."

Cuff, also a junior, scored 43 points that afternoon and Bradley scored 37, as the teams went back and forth. Bradley once showed the videotape in the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room. At one point, a teammate observed, "I thought you said you won this game."

Bradley responded, "Just keep watching."

The title game in Class 2A, then Utah’s third-biggest classification, was highly anticipated, with 5,300 fans filling Southern Utah University’s Centrum. The previous week, in the Region 10 tournament, Lynn Tuttle’s rebound basket had given Emery a thrilling, one-point win. "Everyone was saying there’s not going to be another game like that," Bradley said.

But the teams topped it, with an epic performance that leads Cuff to say now, "In some ways, we didn’t lose that game."

Bradley started slowly, scoring nine points in the first half in his continuing effort to live up to expectations. He’d grown 3 inches every year since kindergarten, when he already was so tall that the high school coach at the time visited his parents and made them promise not to move. The family was entrenched, with Bradley’s mother being a descendant of Carl Wilberg, who settled the Castle Valley.

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Todd Jeffs was promoted as Emery’s coach in advance of Bradley’s junior season, 10 years after graduating from the school. The previous coach was fired after a loss in the state tournament semifinals, and Jeffs inherited a team with only two seniors.

"Maybe I was just too young and dumb, [but] I didn’t feel pressure," Jeffs said.

Bradley would grow to 7-6 as a senior, before playing one season at BYU and 12 years in the NBA, averaging 8.1 points in 832 games for three teams. Remarkably athletic as a teenager amid those growth spurts, Bradley also played baseball, golf and even some football, despite his thin frame. Now, at 41, Bradley weighs 350 pounds, appearing trim and properly proportioned for the first time in his life.

Cuff was a basketball prodigy, growing up in Richfield as a son of the high school coach. His college basketball odyssey included stops at BYU (Cuff and Bradley never played together in Provo, due to the timing of their LDS Church missions), Arizona State and Weber State. Cuff followed his father’s career path and now coaches at Dixie High School. As he spoke recently during a junior varsity game at Cedar City, Cuff watched his 7-year-old son, Tiger Luke Cuff, re-enact a scene from his own childhood, joining the Dixie players in the layup line.

Bob Cuff stepped down after Ryan’s eighth-grade year, rather than be viewed as favoring his son — or holding him back. Otherwise, Cuff probably wouldn’t have started as a freshman, leading the Wildcats to two state championships with coach Dewain Peterson, after his father had won two titles.

Cuff "loved the moment," Peterson said. "Nothing bothered him."

Cuff and most of the other Wildcats had grown up together. The team also was bolstered by the transfer of center Todd Hermansen from Manti, because of Richfield’s program for hearing impaired students. Another player quit the team just before the season for personal reasons, but Jim Sheets replaced him. Sheets arrived in town in time for basketball season, three years after his mother, Kathleen, had died in Holladay in one of the Mark Hofmann bombings.

Prior to overtime, Cuff could have given Richfield a third straight championship. After being fouled while making a tying jump shot, he missed a free throw — the ball bounced three times on the rim, before trickling off — with 15 seconds left.

Emery’s last possession of regulation ended when Gordon fumbled the ball and Cuff grabbed it, only to lose control before he could launch a shot.

By this time, Bradley’s mother, Teresa, no longer could bear to watch, fleeing into the hallway. "I’m not kidding," she said. "I still get anxious, just thinking about it."

In overtime, the teams were tied in the last minute after this sequence: Cuff’s 3-pointer, Bradley’s inside basket and another Cuff 3-pointer. Emery worked the clock, then the ball came inside to Bradley, just as a whistle blew.

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