Twenty-three former Kansas University basketball players and 16,300 fans had no idea what to expect Saturday afternoon as they entered Allen Fieldhouse for a late-September alumni game entitled, “Legends of the Phog.”
What ensued was pure magic — a surprisingly competitive 111-111 tie — that featured epic three-pointers by NBA players Paul Pierce and Mario Chalmers in the final five seconds.
“I don’t think anybody realized this would end up being such a great deal,” former KU guard Ryan Robertson said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home in St. Charles, Mo.
“I was telling Joanie (Stephens, KU basketball secretary) I’ve had a lot of great memories in the fieldhouse. That’s right up there,” added Robertson, who was part of 54 victories against just three losses (from 1996-99) in KU’s tradition-rich building.
“It’s hard to imagine an exhibition game having one of the biggest shots in Kansas basketball history. I don’t want to say that ... but it sure is a fun story to tell,” added Robertson, who has a heck of a story to tell his grandkids someday.
The 6-foot-5, 34-year-old stringbean — who scored 15 points and dished five assists while playing his first full-court basketball game in six months — was told (by coach Larry Brown) to guard 25-year-old Chalmers on the game’s final possession. Robertson’s Blue team had just taken a 111-108 lead on a deep three by Boston Celtics phenom Pierce with :05 remaining.
“Coach Brown’s exact words were, ‘I don’t want to do anything special here. Let’s just play him straight. Let’s see if they have the guts to make a shot to tie us,’’’ Robertson said.
“I looked at coach Brown like, ‘You want me to guard this guy?’ I looked at Paul a second and said, ‘Paul, do you want to switch?’’’
Pierce did not want to switch.
It was up to Robertson to shadow Chalmers, who hit the three to force overtime against Memphis in the 2008 NCAA title game.
“I said, ‘You know what? There’s five seconds left. If Mario can make a shot over me then it’s a great story and God bless him for doing it,’’’ Robertson said.
“Mario pump-faked two or three times and got a good look and hit the three (to tie it at 111). I don’t like getting scored on, but I think the storybook ending is much better with Mario making it.”
As it turns out. White team coach Ted Owens had considered using Chalmers as a decoy on the final possession.
“We talked about a play in which we would go to Mario first. We were running him off a zipper to get him the ball and then we were backpicking for a flair screen for Brandon (Rush),” Owens said. “Mario heard that, looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I can do it.’ So I said, ‘By golly, if a guy thinks he can do it like that, we’re going to run the play for him.’’’
Owens flashed a big smile after Chalmers’ huge shot drew nothing but net.
“It’s almost incredible in your lifetime (to get to experience that),” the 82-year-old Owens said. “That certainly wasn’t the most important game in Kansas history, (but) it was a big shot.”
Robertson will forever be amazed he was on the court during crunch time.
“In the last five minutes, when the game kind of got competitive, there were nine current NBA first-round draft picks out there and one 35-year-old guy who sells mutual funds for a living,” said Goldman-Sachs employee Robertson, who turns 35 Sunday.
Robertson said the highlight of the weekend was hanging around his former KU teammate, Pierce, who last had been in Lawrence for his jersey-retirement ceremony in 2003.
“Paul said he had so much fun,” Robertson said. “I watched him before the game when the videos were playing. He was sitting there with a hand over his face. He got emotional. Watching him get emotional made me get emotional. It was like a Hallmark card.”
Owens had an unforgettable weekend coaching the White team.
“We told the players we wanted just two things: to run back on defense and to share the ball,” said Owens, who called one timeout to stop a run and one to set up Chalmers’ final shot. “We have certain standards of expectations for players. I just cannot take it when a player doesn’t run back on defense.”
He said he enjoyed getting to know the White team players.
“For the most part, those players played for Bill and Roy (Williams),” Owens said of the 12 KU players currently in the NBA. “I see Nick (Collison) and Cole (Aldrich) all the time when I go to the (Oklahoma City) Thunder games. Cole played great. He had 19 rebounds and didn’t play a lot of minutes. It was funny. At one point I looked at Cole on the bench. I said, ‘Cole, what are you doing there?’ He said, ‘Darnell (Jackson) told me you substituted him for me.’ I said, ‘What?’ Darnell had put himself in the game. We had a pretty loose group,” Owens added with a laugh.
A competitive group that enjoyed a competitive game.
“I was downtown the next morning. Everybody was talking about the game,” Owens said of downtown Lawrence. “This is a special, special place that loves basketball so much.”
Possible foe: KU and North Carolina State are working on a home-and-home series, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said Wednesday. The Raleigh News-Observer indicated N.C. State would travel to KU in December 2012 and KU to Raleigh in 2013. KU officials had no comment.
Langford done in Russia: Former Kansas University basketball guard Keith Langford is leaving the Khimki Moscow basketball team, website sportnando.net reports.
Viktor Bychkov, the general manager of the team, said the squad is “in the process to break the contract” with Langford, who played in Moscow last season.
“Keith is a very important player, a team leader, but in certain situation the most important thing is always the team,” Bychkov told Sport.ria.ru. “Last season he was often injured and we played the most important games during the year without him. This summer, when he came back he was not in good shape. We are in the process to break the contract.”