March Sadness: How it feels to be on the losing side of NCAA tournament greatness
He’s the one everybody sees and few remember, a nearly invisible piece of history standing 6 feet 9.
Newspaper photos the next day revealed his attempt to create a different fate. His arms outstretched. Hands held high as the ball approached off the fingertips of the UCLA point guard practically a foot shorter.
It’s the same in the footage replayed so many times during the NCAA tournament over the years. Shifting his feet over to contest. Shooting those arms up. Straining to stop a miracle finish 4.8 seconds in the making.
The ending never changes.
Tyus Edney’s shot always goes in. Derek Grimm’s regrets never go away.
If only the Missouri forward had jumped. If he had moved his hands half an inch toward the ball. If he had just neglected to trim his fingernails that week.
“I thought I made the shot pretty hard for him,” Grimm recently said over the phone of the play in 1995 that changed so many lives, “but obviously not hard enough.”
Edney got his miracle finish on the way to a national championship.
Never returning to the NCAA tournament over his final two college seasons, Grimm became part of a faded photo in somebody else’s scrapbook.
Every year around this time, the 48-year-old revisits his uneasy place in college basketball lore.
He’ll be at a bar watching the NCAA tournament when the topic invariably turns to his playing days.
“Do you remember the Tyus Edney play?” Grimm will ask somebody.
“Yeah, yeah,” comes the reply.
“Well, he shot over me.”
Of course they don’t remember him. The attention always goes to the March miracle makers.
Mouths dropped at Christian Laettner’s shot lifting Duke in 1992. Shrieks filled the air after Lorenzo Charles’ dunk won it for North Carolina State in 1983. Disbelief reigned upon Edney’s coast-to-coast blur of a layup.
Does anyone recall that Kentucky’s Deron Feldhaus put up an arm to contest Laettner? That Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon failed to box out Charles? That Grimm’s best efforts weren’t enough against Edney?
This is the other side of the plays that make this the most memorable month in sports — March Sadness. Each year, it lingers on every court and infiltrates almost every locker room. Sixty-seven of the 68 NCAA tournament teams go home losers.
Even UCLA’s illustrious history in the event is filled with sorrow. Bruins fans who delight in the image of Adam Morrison bawling after Gonzaga’s epic collapse in 2006 cringe at their own heroes’ despair.
David Singleton looking on helplessly two years ago as Jalen Suggs’ heave over his outstretched arms somehow banked into the basket to lift Gonzaga to victory. Kiki Vandeweghe crying in 1980 after blowing a layup late against Louisville. Bill Walton leaving the court in disgust after losing a seven-point lead in a 1974 double-overtime loss to North Carolina State.
Grimm stood in wide-eyed disbelief inside the Boise State University Pavilion as the Bruins swarmed Edney in ecstasy on that multicolored court. Reserve forward Bob Myers — the future Golden State Warriors general manager — was the first teammate to reach Edney, hoisting him triumphantly into the air.
On the other end of the court, Missouri’s 7-foot twins, Simeon and Sammy Haley, fell to their knees in anguish in front of the team bench. Tears flooded the locker room. No one could really process any of it.
“I remember being like, whoa, what just happened?” Grimm said of watching Edney’s improbable shot beat the odds. “Not even knowing at first that it went in and then literally half a second later, wow, it went in and that’s it. It’s over.”
The worst day of his basketball career got off to an ominous start.
Grimm woke up the morning of March 19, 1995, with flu-like symptoms. A 100-plus-degree temperature. Severe dehydration.
There was significant doubt as to whether he would be able to play.
“I remember not going to the shoot-around and feeling terrible,” Grimm said, “not a big fan of needles, and they’re like, ‘Well, we’ll give you an IV,’ and I was like, ‘If you guys think that that might work.’ ”
Rest and intravenous fluids, combined with resolve, were enough to get him to the arena for tipoff.
“I just knew in the moment I couldn’t miss that game,” he said. “I had to at least try.”
Missouri had no chance without the dynamic power forward who could sink three-pointers, a stretch four before the term was invented. Grimm was his team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder who also made a stunning 47.5% of his three-pointers.
The Tigers had backed into the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed after dropping five of their last six games. A 65-60 victory over Indiana in the first round made Grimm witness to another memorable March moment when he caught part of Bobby Knight’s tirade at a tournament official who said the volatile Hoosiers coach wouldn’t attend the postgame news conference.
Taking on the top-ranked, top-seeded Bruins in the second round two days later did not intimidate the Tigers. On the eve of the game, Grimm spoke seven words that couldn’t have been more prophetic.
“We just have to stop their break,” he said.
“Very surprised that he had gotten that far. I remember something going through my head — just don’t foul, make it a tough shot for him.”
— Derek Grimm, on Tyus Edney’s winning shot
In a game of massive runs, Missouri built a nine-point cushion early in the second half before the Bruins rolled off 15 straight points. Grimm played well, shaking off his symptoms. His three-pointer with 3:49 left gave the Tigers a 72-69 advantage.
The lead continued to ping-pong. With Missouri down by a point and the clock dwindling under 10 seconds, guard Kendrick Moore drove toward the right side of the court, spinning near the free-throw line. A jump pass found teammate Julian Winfield in the paint for a contested layup that gave the Tigers a 74-73 lead.
Was it enough? As UCLA called a timeout, with Missouri players streaming onto the court in celebration, Grimm looked at the clock. The only thing standing between his team and the biggest tournament upset in school history were those 4.8 seconds.
In the Bruins’ huddle, coach Jim Harrick instructed Edney to go the length of the court and take the last shot. In the Tigers’ huddle, coach Norm Stewart’s plan was to disrupt the jitterbug point guard. Slow him down, make him change directions, consume a precious second or two. Don’t foul.
What happened next could please only one coach while breaking countless hearts.
Curling around in the backcourt, Edney got a running start as he took the inbounds pass from Cameron Dollar. Defended loosely by the Tigers’ Jason Sutherland, Edney shook his counterpart as he crossed half court with a behind-the-back dribble. He cut toward the other side of the court and raced toward the basket, a one-on-five fast break.
Grimm stepped forward to challenge Edney about four feet from the basket, the last line of defense.
“Very surprised that he had gotten that far,” Grimm said. “I remember something going through my head — just don’t foul, make it a tough shot for him.”
“I remember being emotional after that game and being in kind of a funk for the next couple of weeks at school and just being like, wow, that’s crazy.”
— Derek Grimm, after Tyus Edney’s winning shot
Twenty-eight years later, Edney said it was textbook defense — hands high, wall up, make it hard to score over.
“Honestly, I think he did what he was supposed to do,” Edney said. “He was supposed to be there to make it tough and kind of contest without fouling.”
Confronted by those long arms, Edney had to contort his body around Grimm to get off a shot above his fingertips. The ball banked high off the backboard, caressing the front of the rim before falling through the net as the buzzer sounded.
Buoyed by its escape, UCLA won its next four games by an average of 12 points on the way to the championship. Meanwhile, Grimm returned to campus with incurable heartache.
“I remember being emotional after that game and being in kind of a funk for the next couple of weeks at school,” he said, “and just being like, wow, that’s crazy.”
The shot made Edney something of a celebrity beyond his brief NBA career. About to enter a clothing store in Beverly Hills, he was once recognized by heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson after some small talk.
“He’s like, ‘I know who you are, man,’ ” Edney said, recalling the exchange.
Grimm faded into relative anonymity, the Tigers going to the National Invitation Tournament his junior year before finishing with a losing record in his final college season. He never imagined the play involving Edney would be his last on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“I just kind of took it for granted out of being young and naïve,” Grimm said, “that we’d be back to probably have two more chances at the tournament.”
After going undrafted, Grimm played in nine games with the Sacramento Kings during the 1997-98 season before commencing a journeyman’s career in the Continental Basketball Assn. and overseas.
“Anybody who’d pay me,” said Grimm, who made the roster of teams in the Philippines, Turkey, Kosovo and Japan, among other places. “I went and played for a while.”
Eventually returning to his hometown of Morton, Ill., Grimm now owns some commercial and residential properties in addition to running Grimm’s Inc., a screen printing and embroidery business, alongside his wife, Jenna.
Except for seeing Edney’s shot replayed during the NCAA tournament, Grimm hasn’t gone back and rewatched it. There’s no point, really.
“There’s not much you can do about it,” he said with a chuckle.
Grimm’s only consolation is that the Bruins went on to win the national championship, meaning he was tangentially involved in something special.
“It is awesome to be a part of something so iconic,” he said, “even if you’re on the losing end of it.”
Grimm and Edney never stepped onto the same court again despite overlapping professional careers — Edney spent two seasons with the Kings before Grimm’s arrival and played overseas for many years as well. Edney is now an assistant under San Diego coach Steve Lavin, who was part of Harrick’s staff that drew up the most beloved play in UCLA history.
This month, Edney asked a reporter how Grimm felt about the play and was told that he was a good sport about it despite the deeply embedded anguish.
“Good,” Edney said. “So if I run into him, we can laugh about it and have a drink about it?”
Probably so, even if some of the laughter might be just for the sake of being polite.