Or do we? These five NCAA hoops heroes offer a glimpse at life after march madness.
Author Adam K. Raymond
by Adam K. Raymond
The ball is tipped / And there you are / You’re running for your life / You’re a shooting star.
HEARING THOSE WORDS blare from the TV means three things are happening: No. 1: Luther Vandross is singing “One Shining Moment,” the anthem that CBS uses to commemorate the end of the NCAA Tournament. No. 2: A group of sweaty players and an old guy in a double-breasted suit are climbing a ladder with a pair of scissors. No. 3: I’m crying.
Like millions of Americans, I’m a sucker for the over-the-top drama that is the NCAA Tournament. Every March, I put my life on hold and grab a bottomless tub of guacamole.
But the Final Four isn’t about me; it’s about the players. For the vast majority of them, this tourney is the end of their basketball careers, finished before they even start. Sure, some will go to the NBA and others will play pro ball overseas, but most will enter the workaday world of the same schmucks (like me) who once cheered them on. The tournament is that aforementioned shining moment. So with March just a couple weeks from Madness, let’s check back with five of the shiniest NCAA Tournament players to find out what happened to them after the trophy was awarded and CBS switched back to Andy Rooney’s eyebrows.
SHINING MOMENT: Hoosiers love Larry Bird, but Larry Bird didn’t make “The Shot.” Keith Smart did. With five seconds left in the 1987 NCAA championship game, the crafty Indiana University guard buried a jump shot from the left wing to give his team a one-point win and cement his status as Indiana’s most unlikely sports legend. A Louisiana native who went unnoticed out of high school, Smart spent time at a community college in Kansas before landing on Bobby Knight’s Indiana squad. Once in Bloomington, he was a little-noticed contributor. Then, with that 16-foot jumper, which gave IU its fifth national championship, Smart became the face of March Madness.
WHERE HE IS NOW: After two years in Indiana, Smart went on to the NBA, where he logged a grand total of 12 minutes in two games, scoring two points in his entire NBA career. Then Smart—like a much less desirable LeBron James—“took his talents” to Canada, the Philippines, France and Venezuela before returning to the NBA to coach. After seven years as an assistant, Smart landed his first head coach gig when the Golden State Warriors chose the 46-year- old to lead the team into a new era of relevance. Still, “The Shot” follows him everywhere. Each March, when it’s replayed by CBS and ESPN Classic, Smart says he hears less about the heroic jumper and more about the tiny shorts he’s wearing.
SHINING MOMENT: Forget Color Me Badd—1991 belonged to Christian Laettner. His Duke Blue Devils defeated Kansas for the NCAA Championship that year, and Laettner was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Better remembered, though, is his last-second jumper in the Elite Eight the following season. Down one point to Kentucky with 2.1 seconds left in overtime, Laettner took a full-court pass from Grant Hill, dribbled once and hit a buzzer-beating jumper to send his team to the Final Four. It’s regarded as one of the greatest college basketball games of all-time—unless you live in Kentucky.
WHERE HE IS NOW: Following his dream game, Laettner joined the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and won a gold medal for keeping the bench warm for legends like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. He was then drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves and went on to be a solid but never spectacular player on six NBA teams. He retired in 2005 and began working full time at a community development company called Blue Devil Ventures, but he still found time in 2009 to recreate his shot for a Vitamin Water ad. They hated it in Kentucky.
SHINING MOMENT: Every college basketball fan has a special place in his heart for Cinderellas, those plucky teams that make improbably deep runs into the tournament. In 1998, Valparaiso was the lucky lady, thanks in large part to head coach Homer Drew’s son Bryce and the three- pointer he nailed to lift his 13th-seeded Crusaders over the fourth-seeded University of Mississippi Rebels in the first round. Drew’s shot, which some Indiana natives claim is the real “The Shot,” combined the two things college basketball fans love most—buzzer- beaters and underdogs—in one of the tournament’s shiniest moments ever.
WHERE HE IS NOW: After teaching the country that Valpo is a college in Indiana and not a brand of dog food, Drew became the school’s first-ever first-round pick in the NBA draft. During his six years in the NBA, he jumped between the Rockets, Bulls and Hornets, filling the three-point- specialist role for each. In 2004 his NBA career came to an end, and, like any good coach’s son, he jumped into coaching himself. Six years later, Drew is still at Valpo, where he’s been honored as one of the 150 Most Influential Persons in the university’s history. That’s the power of a “shot.”
SHINING MOMENT: The man they call Melo was anything but as he led the Syracuse Orange to their first NCAA championship in 2003. Carmelo Anthony ripped through the bracket, scoring 33 points against Texas in the Final Four (a tournament record for a freshman) and 20 in the final game against Kansas. After third-seeded Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim lifted the trophy, Anthony lifted his own as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
WHERE HE IS NOW: Feeling no urge to repeat, Anthony left Syracuse after his freshman year to enter the NBA draft, where he was chosen third overall by the Denver Nuggets. He excelled once again as a rookie phenom, averaging 21 points per game. Since then, he’s been an NBA All Star three times, averaged at least 20 points per game each season and picked up a little hardware on the side—a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and a gold in Beijing in 2008. After the 2006 season, he signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension with the Nuggets. But his biggest achievement occurred in 2010, when his wedding to MTV VJ LaLa Vazquez aired on VH1.
SHINING MOMENT: Few teams have come into a season as highly touted as the 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels, and center Sean May was the core of that hype. By the time the trumpets blared on 2005’s “One Shining Moment” montage, it was clear why: UNC won its fourth NCAA championship thanks to May and his 26-point, 10-rebound effort in the Tar Heels’ win over Illinois. With little left to achieve after that, May bolted for the big time.
WHERE HE IS NOW: Drafted 13th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, May is still best remembered for his days in baby blue. His pro career has taken him to Charlotte, Sacramento and New Jersey, but with little success. After a stress fracture last summer caused the Nets to cut him, May got a call from a place no first-round draft pick ever wants to hear from: Europe. In December, he signed with a Turkish team, where he’ll play alongside Lynn Greer, who had a few shining moments of his own in 2001, when he led the 11th-seeded Temple Owls to the Elite Eight.
Kentucky native ADAM K. RAYMOND’s glory days mostly involve guacamole and sofas.