In his mind, Pelphrey and his Kentucky teammates beat Duke to punch a ticket to the 1992 Final Four. The full-court pass intended for Duke star Christian Laettner never was completed. The 25-foot shot never took place.
To Pelphrey, the pain of losing his final game as a collegiate player on an improbable buzzer beater just didn't happen.
"Well, I don't know if you guys knew this or not, but I've had a lot of therapy over the years," Pelphrey said jokingly. "There's new drugs out. The shot didn't go in. I just can't find my Final Four ring. I don't know where it's at."
But sometimes last-second shots go in.
Anyone vaguely familiar with college basketball the past 16 years remembers what really happened. Pelphrey was immortalized as an unlucky defender on an impossible play.
Laettner led Duke to the Final Four and an eventual national title behind the strength of one of the sport's most popular moments — a buzzer beater. It still serves as an ongoing reminder that, as the 2008 NCAA Tournament begins today, anything is possible in the final moments.
And when it happens, it's remembered forever.
"It's so amazing that one shot can last so many years," said former Arkansas great U.S. Reed, who hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to beat defending champion Louisville in the 1981 tournament. "Actually, I was in Jamaica at a resort. I slide into a pool and somebody said, ‘U.S. Reed.' Somebody brings it up in the Caribbean. I never thought I'd be hearing that."
They Never Forget
Indiana, which plays Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, will try to forget a Laettner-like shot from its last game.
Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber hit a left-handed, buzzer beater to shock the Hoosiers 59-58 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Arkansas associate head coach Rob Evans understands Indiana's pain. He, like Pelphrey, was on the losing end of one of the NCAA Tournament's most memorable shots and unlikely stars — Valparaiso's Bryce Drew.
Evans was Ole Miss' coach in 1998 when the guard hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to sink the Rebels. Evans said he'll always remember what he told his players afterward.
"I told them, ‘You guys will see this play for many, many years to come,'" Evans said. "It has come true."
That simple fact still amazes former North Carolina State forward Lorenzo Charles, whose buzzer-beating dunk against Houston in the 1983 title game remains one of the tournament's most famous moments.
Charles said his life remains filled with reminders. In fact, this season marks the 25th anniversary of N.C. State's improbable title, which the Wolfpack won when Charles caught a 30-foot shot in the air and dunked it through the hoop at the buzzer.
"I've been talking about that shot for the last 25 years," Charles said. "I really didn't think I'd be talking about it so long when it happened. I really felt this was a nice 15 minutes of fame. A few months down the road, it will be something that I wouldn't be talking about anymore.
"But no matter where I've gone, no matter what I've done, once people recognize me and put it together that I'm the guy that was involved in that moment, I've had no other choice but to talk about it."
N.C. State honored the 1983 team during a basketball game earlier this season. The school added a special twist to remind Charles it hasn't forgotten the moment. His No. 43 jersey was retired to commemorate the anniversary.
"I remember growing up in the playgrounds of New York City and playing ball, and everyone always made believe that we were playing on national television in front of a million people and the game was on the line and you made a shot to win," Charles said. "Every kid did that. But you never really thought that something like that would actually come true."
Memphis Grizzlies forward Mike Miller, who played at Florida, didn't even try to put his game-winner in perspective. He said his buzzer beater in a first-round game against Butler in 2000 still remains one of the biggest thrills of his life.
Pelphrey was a Florida assistant at the time and said the Gators survived a big scare when Miller bailed them out with his bucket in overtime. He hit an 8-foot floater as he was falling down and watched it go through the net.
Miller was mobbed by teammates. Florida advanced, eventually advancing to the national championship game.
"You go to college, you work with those guys, you go to class with those guys, that's something that you're a part of," Miller said. "You work as hard as possible to reach goals.
"(The shot) probably wouldn't be as meaningful if we get beat the next round, but we end up playing for a national championship and there's not a lot of people that can say that they played for a national championship and played in the Final Four.
"A lot of it had to do with making a buzzer beater."
Pelphrey said Florida's players were starting to think the season was over before Miller came through. So when it happened, the Gators found new life and zipped to the championship game.
It's not uncommon.
UCLA needed a buzzer beater by guard Tyus Edney on its way to the 1995 national title. So did Connecticut in 1998, when Richard Hamilton hit a buzzer beater against Washington. Maryland's Drew Nicholas knocked down an off-balance 3-pointer to help the Terps in 2003.
Losing on a buzzer beater may be painful, as Pelphrey knows firsthand. But winning with one can be a powerful thing.
"The near-death experience is very, very helpful," Pelphrey said. "When Mike bailed us out with that shot, our team, all the selfishness, all the concern for me, it left."
But his own role in Laettner's shot is one that will stick with Pelphrey forever. A couple days after the buzzer beater, he watched the replay for the first time and had a revelation.
"I thought at that moment in time that I had both hands on that ball, and he took it out of my hands," Pelphrey said. "That's how real it was. I saw it a day and a half later. I never touched it. The mind is a hard thing sometimes to deal with."
Pelphrey said the finality was hard to accept, too. The constant reminders didn't help, either.
Shortly after the 1992 season ended, Pelphrey began his brief professional basketball career in Spain. While there, a reporter working on a story about Laettner's shot tracked down Pelphrey overseas and wanted to talk.
"I'm like, I can't get away from this thing," Pelphrey said.
But Pelphrey came to grips with the moment after watching a film called Mr. Destiny. The message of the movie — that life isn't worse because of one disappointing moment in a sporting event — stuck with Pelphrey.
It still helps whenever tournament time rolls around and Laettner's shot is shown over and over again.
"It's everywhere," Pelphrey said. "It does amaze me that it's kind of got a life of its own."
Evans said he has no regrets about the Ole Miss loss.
To him, the most rewarding moments of the season came before the Valpo loss. A program with little NCAA Tournament history had finally experienced success.
It's no surprise Evans said he and Pelphrey don't swap stories about their last-second losses in the tournament. But he believes each has been affected in positive ways.
"We don't talk about that a whole lot," Evans said with a smile. "Those are not very pleasant moments. But I'm certain him going through that has helped him like it did me as a coach. Because I can tell you right now, he works a tremendous amount, as I did, on special situations."
Preparation is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Reed's story. Before Arkansas faced Louisville in 1981, the guard did something peculiar.
He was taking long-range shots during warm-ups.
"You talk about premonitions or visions," said Reed, who lives in Pine Bluff. "I was shooting very long practice shots, and the guys were saying, ‘Why are you shooting from so far out?' I said, ‘You never know, I may have to shoot a long shot.' I think about that. Maybe I was preparing."
Arkansas may not be testing its halfcourt range before Friday's game against the Hoosiers, but Evans hopes the Razorbacks are prepared for the final moments.
The Razorbacks have spent time running through scenarios in practice. Evans hopes it exposes them to as many last-second situations as possible.
"When we get in that situation, if we get in that situation, critical time, one and done, you may not execute it, but you've at least been exposed in how to execute it," Evans said. "Sometimes it's luck. But it's never going to be luck unless you execute it in practice."
Arkansas learned those lessons in a 92-91 win over Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, when center Steven Hill made a turnaround jumper with five seconds left.
The play — which included point guard Gary Ervin stumbling before finding Hill — wasn't executed to perfection. But the Razorbacks produced the game-winner anyway.
In the end, Pelphrey said preparation mixed with performance are what it takes to experience success.
"But I'd say it's more of the player going and making the play," Pelphrey said. "There may be some coaching involved, but more so than anything it's about keeping those guys in an aggressive, attacking mode."
Laettner, Reed, Charles, Miller, Drew and many more have responded on college hoops' biggest stage. Chances are someone else will do the same this tournament.
Will it be Arkansas?
"I've never been in a buzzer beater situation in the tournament," Arkansas center Darian Townes said. "But if it comes down to it, hey, then maybe we can make history."
BASKETBALL: At the Buzzer
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