- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

If you want to play "Where are they now?" with Maryland and its Final Four history, look no further than the Georgia Dome in Atlanta tomorrow, when the Terrapins play Kansas in the NCAA championship semifinal. Just about everyone from the Terps' team of last season its only previous Final Four showing will be there.

For Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma, the other teams attending this year's party, history runs deeper.

"How many kids actually get to do it?"

The 1987 Indiana Hoosiers were coach Bob Knight's team, of course, but to a large extent they were Steve Alford's team, too. Led by the All-American guard, Indiana squeezed into the championship game, winning by six over Duke in the regional semifinals, by one over LSU in the regional finals and by four over UNLV in the national semifinals.

Awaiting was Syracuse, which featured the likes of Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas. The Orangemen were coming off a 14-point win in the national semis over Rick Pitino's gritty but outmanned Providence team.

"They had a lot of talented players," said Keith Smart, then a junior guard for Indiana. "Our focus was a guy who did it all with a jump shot."


Naturally, Syracuse also knew this. So in the final minute, during which there would be five lead changes, the Orangemen were in a box-and-one defense. The "one" was guarding Alford.

With Indiana trailing 73-72 and 28 seconds left, Coleman missed a free throw. Knight did not call time out, and the Hoosiers worked for the last shot. As the clock ticked down, Smart, stationed on the wing, passed inside to center Darryl Thomas. But Coleman was right there and wouldn't budge. Thomas passed right back to Smart, who had now floated a few steps to his left, near the baseline. Meanwhile, Howard Triche, the Syracuse defender guarding Smart, had taken a few steps toward Thomas.

"After I passed into the post, I relocated," said Smart, a junior college transfer in his first season at Indiana. "Howard went to help, and when he came back, I wasn't in the same spot."

Unguarded, except for a desperation swipe by Triche, Smart launched a 16-footer. It went through with four seconds left. No one is sure why, but three seconds ticked off before Syracuse got its timeout. Coleman's long inbound pass was intercepted by Smart to seal Indiana's 74-73 victory.

"You pass by a playground, kids are counting the clock down," Smart said. "I did it often when I was small, but how many kids actually get to do it?"

Now an assistant coach and director of player personnel for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Smart kiddingly figures he has personally met every one of the 64,000 in attendance who witnessed the shot.

"When I played in Europe and South America, people would come up to me and tell me they were there," he said.

"It was great for the fans of Indiana basketball and just a great moment in time."

Drafted in 1988 by Golden State after his senior year, Smart was released and picked up by San Antonio. He was cut after playing in two games and was supposed to report to a CBA team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Instead, he went into a six-week sulk, shutting himself off from the world and gaining weight.

"You think you should be in the NBA," he said, "but you're not."

Smart finally reported. But when Spurs coach Larry Brown dispatched an assistant to Iowa to check him out, Smart was out of shape. He never again played in the NBA. Instead, he bounced around the CBA and went overseas, playing in the Philippines, Venezuela, France and Taiwan before retiring in 1997.

Before that, working at Reggie Miller's camp in Indianapolis, Smart was bit by the coaching bug. After his playing career, he coached in the CBA for three years and then landed the Cavaliers job.

As a CBA coach, Smart said he tried to convey a simple message to his players.

"Always be ready," he said. "I had a driving passion to get players into position for the NBA if they get the call. I wasn't ready for my opportunity. My thing was to make them realize the call could come at any time."

"So we went out and ran with them."

The best player in college basketball in 1988 was Kansas senior Danny Manning. A prototype of today's NBA small forward, the 6-foot-1 Manning could do it all shoot, rebound, pass, defend and run the floor. The Jayhawks, seeded sixth in the Midwest, were known as "Danny and the Miracles" because Manning literally carried them all the way to the championship game against Oklahoma at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

"I think they were more talented than we were, top to bottom," said Milt Newton, a junior forward and one of the Miracles at the time. "They had a lot of good players. We had Danny."

Oklahoma dominated the Big Eight and beat Kansas twice during the regular season. The Sooners were seeded No.1 in the Southeast. Kansas had been inconsistent, losing starters Archie Marshall (knee injury) and Marvin Branch (academics) and enduring a midseason slump.

"We went from being a team that people thought could win the national championship to being just an all-right team," said Newton, who had graduated from the District's Coolidge High School. "But once we got into the tournament, Coach [Larry] Brown said, 'OK, guys, it's a brand-new season.'"

Kansas, unranked entering the tournament, needed some luck. N.C. State, the No.3 seed in the Midwest, lost to 14th-seeded Murray State in the first round. Second-seeded Pittsburgh lost to Vanderbilt in the second round. But the Jayhawks still had to win, and luck was hardly a factor when they beat Duke by 10 in the national semifinals.

Yet Kansas was a big underdog against Oklahoma, which featured guard Mookie Blaylock and forwards Stacey King and Harvey Grant and was coming off an 86-78 victory over Arizona. But the Jayhawks were loose.

"Hey, nobody expected us to win the thing," Newton said. "And it's hard to beat a team three times."

Before the game, Brown told his players to control the tempo, to force Billy Tubbs' fast-breaking Sooners into a slower pace. Then Manning gathered the team together.

"He said, 'Hey, forget that,'" Newton recalled. "But he didn't say 'forget.' He said, 'Let's show them we can run with them. It's just a game. If we lose, we'll still wake up tomorrow.' So we went out and ran with them."

It was 50-50 at halftime. Then, according to Newton, Brown said, "All right, guys, you proved your point. If you want to win the game, you've got to play the way we play. Let's make them play our game now."

Kansas switched to its more patient style. Oklahoma continued to play fast, but the Sooners rushed, and missed their shots. "The more impatient they got," Newton said, "the more they couldn't get it done."

Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79.

The Jayhawks, who finished with a 27-11 record, were the first team with more than 10 losses ever to win the championship. Manning had 31 points and 18 rebounds and was named the Final Four's most outstanding player. Newton, who scored 20 points against Duke, shot 6-for-6 from the field, scored 15 points and made the all-tournament team.

After his senior year, the undrafted Newton tried out for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was the final cut in training camp, then played one season in the CBA. "That was enough for me," he said.

He went back to Kansas and got his master's degree, did some work for the Denver Nuggets and USA Basketball, and scouted for Brown with the Philadelphia 76ers. Last year he was named personnel director of the NBA's new developmental league, scouting players who might have a professional future.

"From time to time, I think I might have given the game up too early," Newton said. "My dad always reminded me of guys who chase the dream and never get it, and when it's time to do a 9 to 5 job, they don't know where to turn. I didn't want to put myself in that position."

"And that will exorcise all the ghosts."

Don't take it personally, Maryland fans, but Stacey King is rooting like heck for Kansas to beat your Terps.

Nothing against Maryland. But that way, assuming Oklahoma beats Indiana, King's Sooners will have another shot at the Jayhawks. And a chance at redemption.

"I hope they get the chance to play Kansas and beat 'em," King said, "and that will exorcise all the ghosts. And then I think all the guys like myself and Mookie and Harvey can rest a little easier."

Despite going on to an NBA career that included three championships with the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma's loss to Kansas in the Final Four nags at King like the incessant cheer of "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk."

And it still bothers him where the game was played. The Kansas campus in Lawrence is but a few miles from Kansas City.

"It was not a neutral floor," King said. "It was pretty much a home court game for them. All the Arizona and Duke fans gave their tickets to all the KU people. It was a 16,000-seat arena, and Kansas had about 11,000 fans. It was kind of unfair."

But King, now coach of the CBA's Rockford Lightning, knows that wasn't the real reason. Oklahoma, he said, let Kansas do what it wanted, especially in the second half.

"If I could change our philosophy a little bit, I would have pressed them a little more," he said. "In the second half, we kind of backed off them."

King, who had 17 points and seven rebounds and made the all-tournament team, could have been a lottery pick that year. Instead, he returned for his senior season and another shot at a championship. It didn't happen, but King had an outstanding year and the Bulls made him the sixth pick of the 1989 draft.

Although King never realized his potential in the NBA, he does own three championship rings. And he survived the Michael Jordan treatment. Jordan is tough on young players, but he was especially hard on King.

King hung in there.

"If you stand up to him and don't back down, he respects that," King said. "He wants to see where their heart is. A lot of guys wilt and he loses all respect for them. He's a mental-game wizard."

No pun intended.

King was traded to Minnesota in 1994 and later played for Miami, Boston and Dallas before going to Europe. He retired after suffering a knee injury while playing in Turkey, and did some broadcasting for ESPN. He thought he would give coaching a shot and went to Rockford as an assistant. When the head coach got fired, King took over and did well, and now he has the Lightning in the playoffs in the re-formed CBA.

"I never thought I'd be a coach," said King, who still practices with his team. "But I've always been on winning teams, and I've always had good coaches to teach me what it takes to be a winner. It's not just about putting the ball in the hoop."

Maybe not. But if the Sooners do that more frequently than their opponents in Atlanta, it would be fine with him.

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