Finally, we are starting to wrap up this whole National Championship thing. The rest of the weekend, we will wrap up the 2007-08 season, before moving on to recapping both the football and basketball seasons. We have months before we actually get to talk about real-life games again, so we will have plenty of time to go over all of this stuff...
Going into Final Four weekend, I said I was searching for some memories over the weekend in San Antonio.
I think Mario Chalmers took care of that.
Those final 10.8 seconds, specifically the 8.7 seconds between the toss-in to Sherron Collins and Mario Chalmers' gorgeous shot falling through the net, will always be engrained in my memory. Forever. When I am asked for my favorite memory, my mind will immediately turn to those magical milliseconds in San Antonio, where Mario Chalmers instantaneously became a Kansas legend. And yes, Mario Chalmers changed his life forever in those precious few seconds.
He didn't touch the ball until the clock read "5.1", and the ball had completely left his hand by "4.1". The ball was in contact with his body for all of one second, and the ball went through the next at "2.1". In a matter of three seconds, Mario Chalmers changed his life in more ways than one.
When the clock still read "5.1", Mario Chalmers was merely a great player on an excellent team more known for team qualities than individual star power, and in terms of well-known names, Mario firmly sat behind Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur.
When the clock still read "5.1", Mario was set to go down as a great player in Kansas history, but one that would largely be forgotten once his eligibility had run dry. Sure, Mario had accomplished a bunch of things when the clock still read "5.1", but not nearly enough to garner long-term attention at a history-packed University.
When the clock still read "5.1", Chalmers had yet to make a statement all Tournament long, and had only scored 13 points in the first 39-and-change.
When the clock still read "5.1", most Kansas fans recalled the other two times we had been in similar scenarios, once on the road against Texas and once on the road against Oklahoma State. In both instances, shots clanked off the rim as Kansas lost, and in the Texas game, we ran the same, exact, identical play that we ran to close the National Championship game.
When the clock still read "5.1", 99% of Americans fully expected the Memphis Tigers to win the basketball game, and Billy Packer had already crowned John Calipari's team the National Champions.
When the clock still read "5.1", I recalled my #1 sports memory. We were losing to the Syracuse Orangemen by three, 81-78, and we had the ball in an extremely similar situation to the one we found ourselves in Monday night. In that scenario, we jogged the ball up the court, and Kirk Hinrich found Michael Lee open in the corner. At least, Lee was open until ultra-athletic Hakim Warrick soared into the picture, sending Lee's shot soaring out-of-bounds and essentially diminishing any hope we had of tying the game.
But in just three seconds, all of that changed. Every single bit of it.
When only 2.1 seconds remained in the game, Mario had just become the most-known player on this roster. Every casual fan across the country knew Chalmers' name, as soon as the shot went through the net. 10 years from now, if you are asked to name a player on the 2008 National Champion Kansas Jayhawks, one name will pop out of your mouth before all others. And it won't be Jeremy Case.
When only 2.1 seconds remained, Mario clinched himself a place in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse as well as a special place in the hearts of all Kansas Jayhawk fans. While it is tough seeing anybody pass Danny Manning in the current generation of Kansas fans' hearts, Mario has to be a close second. Pre-shot, when there was still 5.1 left before the final horn sounded, Chalmers was well down the list of 'most beloved Jayhawks', and had little shot at having his number-and-name being hung beside the other Jayhawk greats.
When only 2.1 seconds remained, he not made a statement, he made THE statement of the 2008 NCAA Tournament by making the biggest shot in the Championship Game since Keith Smart's game-winner in 1987.
When only 2.1 seconds remained, all Jayhawk fans screamed in unison, and all agreed that the play that we ran both in Austin and then in San Antonio is the greatest play you could ever possibly run in that situation. Now, obviously I am exaggerating, and there might have been a more efficient play we could have run, but it is impossible to argue with the result.
When only 2.1 seconds remained, jaws dropped across the country, and 99% of America was proved wrong. As was Billy Packer. The had taken a monumental turn, a turn that ended up being the final twist in a game full of lead changes and ties.
When only 2.1 seconds remained, most importantly, tens of thousands of Jayhawk fans, along with millions of other observers, were christened with a new sports memory. Mario Chalmers soaring into the air and firing a shot, over Derrick Rose, that tickled the twine is easily the greatest sports moment of my life. Easily. And all of the ill-feelings about previous Championship game appearances, notably the incredibly similar result of the 2003 Final in New Orleans, suddenly evaporated.
In just three seconds, Mario changed a helluva lot. He changed how he will be remembered in both the eyes of the country and, more importantly, the hearts of Jayhawk fans.
And for that, I love him.
(More to come on actual analysis of everyone else coming a little later on...)