It's hard to believe it's been almost 13 years since our comeback against Gonzaga, because I can still remember it vividly.
When I was at UCLA in the 2005-2006 season, we pulled off one of the most incredible comebacks in the history of the NCAA Tournament. We were trailing Gonzaga by 17 points near the end of the first half of that game, and it looked like we had no chance. But our players kept believing.
Even when we still trailed 71-62 with just over three minutes to play, I could tell we still hadn't given up. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made a pair of free throws to trim the lead to 71-64, then with 2:09 to go he added a layup to cut it to 71-66. After a stop on the other end, Jordan Farmar made a jumper to cut it to 71-68. Now we had a ball game.
Adam Morrison, who was the best player in all of college basketball that season, took the ball for Gonzaga. His shot was off the mark, and after we grabbed the rebound, we sank two more free throws to cut the lead to just one point.
That's when things really got crazy.
Morrison got the inbounds pass again, and after we double-teamed him, he tossed it back over to J.P. Batista. But all that did was lead to another double team. With 15 seconds to go, Jordan stole the ball, lofted it toward the basket over to Luc for an easy layup, and just like that we were up 72-71. It was miraculous. Derek Raivio raced down the court for Gonzaga, only to have us steal the ball in the final seconds. We were going to win the game!
But my players didn't just teach me perseverance - they taught me compassion. The moment that we stole that ball, Adam Morrison began to tear up. By the time the final buzzer sounded, he was on the court in tears. He was a Spokane native, a kid who grew up as a ball boy for the Zags, and he was without question the reason they were even in the Sweet 16 in the first place. And now the last game of his college career would end in heartbreak.
People remember the tears. What they may not have seen was after the game ended, Arron Afflalo ran over to console him. If there's an example of the way Christians should approach the game, it was Arron Afflalo.
But my coaching career isn't defined by whether or not I win a title. It's about the fact that I showed Christian values as a coach and cared about my players. And if I had to guess what my parents would have wanted from me as a coach, it would be those exact two things. I don't know if that will ever translate into a championship, but there's only one way to find out. Starkville, thanks for taking a chance on me, and I can't wait to see you guys when next season starts.
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