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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

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"That’s a cheap foul," Bradley thought, not realizing the call went against him.

Brown was awarded a one-and-one opportunity. He once made 172 free throws in a row after practice and was known for spending time in the gym, even having stayed at the Centrum following the previous night’s semifinal victory to practice free throws. "It has to be muscle memory," Brown said, "because there’s just too much pressure."

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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After repeating his manta — "Bounce, bounce; nothin’ but net" — Brown drilled both free throws.

Between shots, Jeffs had called time out. "This is the huddle," Bradley said dramatically, pausing from his barbecue lunch and repeating Jeffs’ instructions: "You know what to do."

Jeffs acknowledged he didn’t formally draw a play, basically just telling the guards to get as close to the basket as possible and look to pass or shoot, as they had practiced.

After receiving the in-bounds pass, Gordon took five dribbles, including a behind-the back move. He suddenly stopped, just inside half-court on the left side — the equivalent spot of Gordon Hayward’s famous attempt for Butler vs. Duke in the 2010 NCAA championship game, taken from the right angle. Richfield guard Clint Henrie slightly overran Gordon and Sheets trailed him as Gordon set his feet and launched the ball - "the shot we wanted him to take," said Peterson, the Richfield coach.

On the videotape, Bradley can be seen near the free-throw line, raising his arm in anticipation of a pass. "Maybe Bradley was open, I don’t know," Gordon said. "You just kind of react."

Gordon released the ball with about three seconds left, but he was comfortable from that range, having practiced "thousands" of half-court shots.

At a 20-year class reunion, Richfield’s seniors received a DVD of the game. Sheets watches it regularly. "That shot goes in every time," he said, managing to chuckle.

The defeat "was tragic, of course," Sheets said, "but not as tragic as losing your mother."

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Brown, who cites the game in LDS seminary lessons, and Cuff also have healthy outlooks. With a 25-year perspective, Cuff said, "Maybe [Emery] needed it more. Not that I acknowledged it as a teenager, but there’s definitely reasons why certain things happen."

Emery County residents, known for being closely aligned with the high school, were dealing with effects of the Wilberg Mine fire in which 26 workers had died, five years earlier.

Cuff’s Richfield team would lose to North Sevier in the 2A semifinals the following year. Emery moved to 3-A and won another title with Bradley, Gordon and other returning players.

Those titles remain Emery’s only two boys basketball championships, although Gordon recently coached two Spartan girls teams to state titles and won another trophy in baseball last May.

He’s also the school’s assistant principal, and coaches an eighth-grade basketball team that includes his son, Easton. During a youth tournament in Springville in January, another coach recognized Gordon after nearly 25 years. It was Brown, who gave him a friendly shove.

Gordon’s players love to launch half-court shots, just for fun. He wishes they would focus on more practical skills. But more than anyone, Gordon should recognize the potential value of such practice.

"Maybe," he said, "I’d better let them keep shooting."


Twitter: @tribkurt

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