tyus-edney-shining-moment

You don’t need a photographic memory to recall the best five seconds of Tyus Edney’s basketball career. Just type his name in YouTube’s search bar and watch the first clip that pops up: “4.8 – Tyus Edney 1995 NCAA Tournament.” But the former UCLA point guard doesn’t require highlights to recall his breathtaking coast-to-coast drive against Missouri. What happened in those five seconds—4.8, to be exact— “is not,” he says, “going anywhere.”

On March 19, 1995, at the Boise State University Pavilion, Edney banked in a twisting layup to give the Bruins a last-second 75-74 victory over Missouri in the second round of the NCAA tournament. UCLA went on to win the West Region and the national championship, but 19 years later, it’s The Shot that endures. After Christian Laettner’s iconic jumper vs. Kentucky in 1992, Edney’s bucket might be the shiniest college basketball moment of the 1990s.

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Somehow, the shot eluded the outstretched arms of 6-foot-9-inch Missouri forward Derek Grimm. In that respect, Edney seemed lucky. But he’d spent his childhood preparing for that moment.

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Now UCLA men’s basketball director of operations, the 40-year-old Edney still hears about his game-winner—and was more than happy to take us through the sequence. It began with then-Bruins coach Jim Harrick using a timeout to explain that the play was designed for Edney, not future first-round draft pick Ed O’Bannon. Edney’s goal, he said, was pretty simple: “Just get the ball down the floor, regardless of who was in front of me.”

Missouri had just scored to take a 74-73 lead, so Edney had to drive the length of the court—about 90 feet—in 4.8 seconds. Backup point guard Cameron Dollar, the inbounder on the play, set up to the right of the basket. Like a slot receiver in football sensing open space, Edney made a quick, diagonal move inside and hauled in Dollar’s pass with his left hand. “He saw me cutting across,” Edney recalls, “and hit me perfectly on the run.” Then Edney took off. It took three dribbles and 1.8 seconds for him to pass the Boise State logo and reach the mid-court stripe.

At that point, the 5-foot-10-inch senior did something relatively audacious, at least for the situation. Edney dribbled behind his back, from left to right. He calls the modified crossover “all instinct.” The pretty move allowed him to blow past Missouri’s Jason Sutherland, who looked like he was trying to grab the back of Edney’s jersey but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.

Two dribbles later, Edney was in the middle of the lane. With about 1.1 seconds showing on the clock, he launched himself off his left foot and released the ball. Somehow, it eluded the outstretched arms of 6-foot-9-inch Missouri forward Derek Grimm. In that respect, Edney seemed lucky. But he’d actually spent his childhood preparing for that moment.

Growing up in Long Beach, California, he and his friends played driveway pickup games on a small, wooden backboard that hung on the Edneys’ garage. The rim was about six or seven feet tall. “If you jumped,” Edney says, “you’d hit your head.” It taught him to vary his close-range shooting angles when bigger defenders were bearing down.

Edney’s father Hank wasn’t convinced the approach worked. “You need to go practice on the big court,” he’d tell Tyus. Dad finally became a believer after watching his son hit a variety of unorthodox runners, floaters and teardrops in games. “I’ve seen you hit those shots before,” Hank would say. So Tyus kept playing on the makeshift hoop. The experience came in handy as time was about to expire against Missouri. Edney altered his release point, essentially wrapping the ball around Grimm. “The only way I got it off,” Edney says, “was to kind of shoot it like I did on that little hoop.”

The ball hit the top right corner of the backboard square, and for a split second, Edney lost sight of it. Then, he says, “I saw it rolling around in the net,” as the buzzer sounded. Final score: UCLA 75, Missouri 74.

Edney doesn’t remember too many details from the ensuing celebration. He does recall being lifted into the air by teammate Bob Myers. Afterward, the sky-high Bruins didn’t come down for about a month. “Fortunately,” Edney says, “we were all flying for the rest of the tournament.” With a national title on his resume, Edney entered the NBA draft in June 1995. The Sacramento Kings took him with the 18th pick in the second round.

The Shot continued to follow him. That summer, Edney, along with several UCLA teammates, played pickup ball with NBA players who were in town filming Space Jam. The star of the movie, of course, was Michael Jordan, who has more than a few The Shots to his name. At one point Jordan approached Edney. “That kind of blew me away,” Edney says. They talked about the NCAA Tournament and Edney’s big moment. Edney remembers it being a decidedly one-sided conversation. “Ummmmm,” he remembers mumbling to Jordan, “OK.”

Edney spent four seasons in the NBA with the Kings, Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers before heading to Europe, where he played professionally for a decade. But his claim to fame is still his coast-to-coast shot. Not that he minds. There are, after all, worse claims to fame.

“It’s definitely,” he says, “a gift.”