Ten years and some 750,000 YouTube views later, one of the University of Maryland basketball's favorite sons has finally come clean about the shot that still stands as one of the greatest buzzer-beaters in NCAA Tournament history.
"Now that I'm back home from playing in Europe, working in the game and seeing everyone again, I have to admit. I thought it was an air-ball." said Drew Nicholas.
For Maryland fans on March 21, 2003, it was anything but.
The Terrapins were down 73-72 to UNC Wilmington with just five seconds left in the first-round game at Atlanta. Nicholas took the inbounds pass, dribbled diagonally across to the right side of the court and let loose a high-arching three-pointer in front of two careful-not-to-foul defenders. There was no time to square up to the basket, so Nicholas leaped high off his left foot and released just before the buzzer.
The backboard's red light turned on as time expired and the ball swished through. Nicholas and his teammates celebrated wildly as the game-ending sequence took more than 10 minutes for officials to validate and confirm.
"It was calculated desperation," smiles Nicholas, now a college basketball analyst after a standout 10-year playing career that included two championships and a scoring title in the Euroleague. "I was moving so fast that when I shot it, I aimed way left because I knew my momentum was going to carry the ball right. Still, my first thought was that it was going to be way off."
That shot, plus a dagger three that beat North Carolina State three weeks earlier and a couple of dazzlers for the famed Euroleague team Panathinaikos (Athens, Greece) are part of a YouTube lineup under Nicholas's name that is now moving toward one million views.
The air-ball confession reflects the honesty that Nicholas displays in his role as studio analyst for Total College Sports (TCS, www.TotalCSports.com) and his game analyst work for ESPN3.
From the commentary desk at the TCS studios in Chicago this week, he is projecting two big upsets of No. 1 seeds: "St. Louis can knock out Louisville in that Midwest Region because they will handle the pressure," Nicholas says. "They'll slow it down and if Louisville can't get those easy points off the press, they are vulnerable."
He also likes Wisconsin to oust Gonzaga.
"They've beaten Indiana, Michigan and Ohio St. so they know how to compete in America's best conference," he adds. "Wisconsin can make it a low-scoring game and they've got enough big people to match up with Gonzaga's size."
Like that kid in a candy story, Nicholas continues to follow his dreams. "I have this deep love for the game and a unique experience as a player both in college and in Europe," Nicholas offers. "I've been fortunate to have a pro career overseas, so I've got that out of my system. I know I've been out of sight, out of mind, but I'm working now to continue in basketball as a commentator."
A high school star at Long Island Lutheran in Brookville, NY, Nicholas was recruited to Maryland by legendary Terps coach Gary Williams. His time with the Terrapins included the 2002 NCAA Championship, in which Maryland defeated Kentucky, Connecticut and Kansas en route to the Monday night final before topping Indiana, 64-52, for the title. His four-year teammate was Steve Blake, now in his 10th year in the NBA. Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox and Terence Morris were among the other standouts during a golden era of Maryland basketball.
In addition to his work at TCS, where his host/partner is Tim Doyle, the former Northwestern University star guard, Nicholas is doing media interviews around the country as America gears up for another frenetic run through some 67 games in 13 cities over 21 days.
Inevitably, there will be another buzzer-beater or three to punctuate what many believe is the most exciting spectacle in sports and entertainment today.
Drew Nicholas will applaud, comment and allow a special smile as the tournament moves toward its Monday, April 8, culmination in Atlanta, the same city where he made such great memories 10 years ago.