March Heartbreak: How it feels to be on the losing end of NCAA tournament greatness

He is what everyone sees and few remember, an almost invisible part of history standing 6 feet 9.

Photographs in the next day’s newspapers revealed the attempt to create another destiny. Arms outstretched. Hands went up as the ball came close to the UCLA scorer’s fingertips almost a foot short.

The same is true of the footage replayed so many times over the years at the NCAA tournament. Moving feet to the competition. Shooting those arms up. The effort to stop a miracle is over in 4.8 seconds.

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 only he had moved his hands half an inch towards the ball. If only he had stopped cutting his nails that week.

“I thought I made the shot pretty hard,” Grimm said recently on the phone of the play that changed so many lives in 1995, “but obviously it’s not enough.”

Edney achieved his miracle en route to the national championship.

Never returning to the NCAA tournament in his final two collegiate seasons, Grimm became part of a faded picture in someone else’s scrapbook.

Every year around this time, the 48-year-old reclaims his uncomfortable place in college basketball lore.

He’ll be at a bar watching the NCAA tournament when the subject always turns to his playing days.

“Remember the Tyus Edney play?” Grimm will ask someone.

“Yes, yes,” comes the reply.

“Well, he shot me.”

Of course they don’t remember him. Attention always goes to the miracle workers of March.

Mouths dropped in 1992 when Christian Laettner shot Duke up. Screams filled the air after Lorenzo Charles won for North Carolina State in 1983. Disbelief reigned over Edney’s coast-to-coast blur.

Does anyone remember Kentucky’s Deron Feldhaus putting his arm up against Laettner? That Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon didn’t throw Charles out? That the Grimm’s efforts weren’t enough against Edney?

This is the other side of the plays that make this the most memorable month in sports: March Heartbreak. Every year, it lasts on every court and enters almost every locker room. Sixty-seven of the 68 teams in the NCAA tournament go home as losers.

UCLA’s illustrious history of the event is also fraught with sadness. Bruins fans who bask in the image of Adam Morrison after Gonzaga’s epic collapse in 2006 cringe at the disappointment of their heroes.

David Singleton watched helplessly two years ago as Jalen Suggs’ outstretched arms somehow drove to the basket to lift Gonzaga to victory. Kiki Vandeweghe cries after a late shot against Louisville in 1980. Bill Walton left the court in disgust after losing a seven-point deficit against North Carolina State in 1974.

Grimm stood wide-eyed inside the Boise University Pavilion as the Bruins walked Edney on the multi-colored court in ecstasy. Reserve forward Bob Myers—the future Golden State Warriors general manager—was the first teammate to arrive at Edney, and he took off triumphantly.

At the other end of the court, Missouri’s 7-foot twins, Simeon and Sammy Haley, dropped to their knees in agony in front of the team bench. Tears flooded the locker room. No one could really process it.

“I remember how, what happened?” Grimm said of seeing Edney’s unlikely shot exceed expectations. “At first I didn’t even know it went in and then literally half a second later, well, it went in and that’s it. It’s over.”

The worst day of his basketball career got off to a bad start.

Grimm woke up on the morning of March 19, 1995, with flu-like symptoms. Temperature over 100 degrees. Severe dehydration.

There was considerable doubt as to whether he would be able to play.

“I remember not going to the shoot and feeling terrible,” Grimm said, “I’m not a needle person, and they said, ‘Well, we’re going to give you an IV,’ and I said, ‘If you guys think that might work.'”

Rest and IV fluids, combined with determination, were enough to get him onto the field.

“I knew right away that I couldn’t lose that game,” he said. “At least I had to try.”

Missouri didn’t stand a chance without a dynamic forward who could sink 3-pointers before the deadline. Grimm was his team’s third leading scorer and rebounder, making an astounding 47.5% of his threes.

The Tigers returned to the NCAA tournament as the No. 8 seed after dropping five of their last six games. Grimm’s 65-60 first-round win over Indiana featured another memorable March moment when he caught part of Bobby Knight’s tirade at a tournament official when the volatile Hoosiers coach said he wouldn’t attend the postgame press conference.

Facing the top-seeded Bruins two days later in the second round didn’t faze the Tigers. On the eve of the game, Grimm spoke seven words that could not have been more prophetic.

“We just have to stop their disruption,” he said.

“He is very surprised that he has come this far. I remember something crossed my mind: don’t do it wrong, make a hard shot for him”.

– Derek Grimm on Tyus Edney’s winning shot

In a high-running game, Missouri built a nine-point cushion early in the second half before the Bruins rattled off 15 straight points. Grimm played well, shaking off his symptoms. His three-pointer with 3:49 left gave the Tigers a 72-69 lead.

The score continued in ping-pong. With Missouri down by one point and less than 10 seconds on the clock, guard Kendrick Moore drove to the right side of the court, spinning near the free throw line. A jump pass found teammate Julian Winfield for a layup that gave the Tigers a 74-73 lead.

Was it enough? As UCLA called a timeout, with Missouri players running onto the court in celebration, Grimm looked at the clock. The only thing standing between his team and the biggest championship in school history were those 4.8 seconds.

UCLA coach Jim Harrick congratulates Tyus Edney after the Bruins defeated Oklahoma State in the 1995 Final Four.

(Susan Ragan/Associated Press)

During the Bruins’ huddle, coach Jim Harrick instructed Edney to go the length of the court and take the final shot. In the Tigers’ huddle, head coach Norm Stewart’s plan was to disrupt the jitterbug point guard. Slow down, change direction, consume a precious second or two. Don’t do wrong.

What happened next could please only one coach, while breaking countless hearts.

Curling up in the backcourt, Edney broke into a run as he took Cameron Dollar’s inbounds pass. Jason Sutherland defended nonchalantly as Edney rattled his counterpart as he crossed half court with a backhand dribble. He cut to the other side of the court and raced to the basket, a fast break one-five.

Grimm stepped forward to tackle Edney four meters from the basket, from the last line of defense.

“He’s very surprised that he made it this far,” Grimm said. “I remember something crossed my mind, don’t do it wrong, make it a hard shot for him.”

“I remember being emotional after that game and being in a kind of funk at school for the next few weeks and just, wow, that’s crazy.”

– Derek Grimm after Tyus Edney’s game-winning shot

Twenty-eight years later, Edney said it was a textbook defense: hands up, wall up, it’s hard to score.

“Honestly, I think he did what he had to do,” Edney said. “He should have been there, without fail, to make for a tough and decent competition.”

Facing those long arms, Edney had to bend his body around the Grimm to get a shot over his fingertips. The ball curled up the backside, caressing the front of the rim before falling over the net as the buzzer sounded.

Buoyed by the breakout, UCLA won its next four games by an average of 12 points en route to the championship. Meanwhile, Grimm returned to campus with an incurable heartache.

“I remember after that game I was emotional and kind of in a funk for the next few weeks at school,” he said, “and just, wow, this is crazy.”

That shot made Edney famous beyond his brief NBA career. Walking into a clothing store in Beverly Hills, heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson once recognized him after some small talk.

“I know who you are, man,” Edney said, recalling the exchange.

Grimm faded into relative anonymity as the Tigers went to the National Invitational Tournament his junior year before finishing with a losing record in his final college season. He never imagined that Edney’s play on college basketball’s biggest stage would be his last.

Derek Grimm sits in a chair smiling.

After college, Derek Grimm played briefly in the NBA before embarking on his playing career.

(Derek Grimm)

“I kind of took it for granted because I was young and naive,” Grimm said, “that we’d probably get two more chances in the tournament and come back.”

Grimm played nine games with the Sacramento Kings during the 1997-98 season before beginning a journeyman career with the Continental Basketball Assn. and abroad

“Anyone would pay me,” said Grimm, who listed teams from the Philippines, Turkey, Kosovo and Japan, among others. “I went and played for a while.”

Finally returning to his hometown of Morton, Ill., Grimm now owns a number of commercial and residential properties in Grimm’s Inc., a screen printing and embroidery business, with his wife, Jenna.

Other than watching Edney’s shot replay in the NCAA tournament, Grimm hasn’t gone back and watched it again. There is nothing, really.

“There’s not much you can do,” he said with a smile.

Grimm’s only consolation is that the Bruins won the national championship, meaning he was tangentially involved in something special.

“It’s great to be a part of something so iconic,” he said, “even though you’re losing it.”

Grimm and Edney never stepped on the same court again, although their professional careers overlapped – Edney spent two seasons with the Kings before Grimm arrived and also played overseas for many years. Edney is now an assistant at San Diego coach Steve Lavin, who was part of Harrick’s staff that made the most beloved play in UCLA history.

Earlier this month, Edney asked a reporter how Grimm felt about the play and was told that although the angst was deeply embedded, it was a good sport.

“Okay,” Edney said. “So if I run into him, we can laugh about it and have a drink?”

Probably so, although some of the laughs may be due to being polite.

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