College basketball: 10 signature moments of the decade
Led by the brash Joakim Noah, Florida won back-to-back national titles
Mason's Final Four run, Mario Chalmers' big three in title game are unforgettable
Freshman such as Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant made indelible impacts
1. "Ladies and gentlemen, Joakim Noah!" (March 11, 2007)
Noah's spastic, post-SEC tournament celebration on Selection Sunday did not go down in the annals of dance, but it did capture the essence of the star of Florida's dynasty. Noah, the son of a French tennis and pop star, was brash and widely reviled by opposing fans -- yet he was an unselfish player who admirably passed on the NBA draft as a sophomore, and backed up his antics by winning back-to-back national titles. After a shocked Verne Lundquist ceded the CBS stage by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, Joakim Noah," Bill Raftery asked Noah a question about seeding. The Gators, who'd slipped a bit down the stretch in '06-07, were likely to enter their title defense as a No. 2 seed. Noah's response? "Who cares! At the end of the day, it's yours against mine -- we'll see who gets it!" For two straight NCAA tournaments, the Gators got it.
2. "By George, the dream is alive!" (March 26, 2006)
Never mind how it ended (with a rout by Noah's Gators in the Final Four): George Mason's 2006 Cinderella run, set to its band's performances of Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer, was the most magical NCAA tournament performance by any team. The 11th-seeded Patriots went from unknowns to America's Team in a matter of two weeks, pulling off a string of upsets -- over No. 6 Michigan State, No. 3 North Carolina, No. 7 Wichita State and No. 1 UConn, in overtime -- that gave hope to little guys everywhere that they could become the Next George Mason. Their Elite Eight win over the Huskies, who had four NBA players on the floor (Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong), was the Patriots' defining moment. The table-dancing that ensued in Washington's Verizon Center, with Lundquist's scripted, "By George, the dream is alive" call, will forever be burned into hoop fans' memories.
3. Mario's Miracle (April 7, 2008)
"It will probably be," coach Bill Self said at the time, "the biggest shot in Kansas history." It was even bigger than that. The three-pointer Mario Chalmers hit with 2.1 seconds left in the national title game against Memphis -- after freshman Derrick Rose missed a free throw that could have all but sealed a championship -- will go down as the biggest clutch shot of the decade. It tied the game at 63, sending it into an overtime that was dominated by the Jayhawks. Chalmers had sat with his father, as a spectator, in the Alamodome in 2004 to watch UConn win a national title; four years later, Mario returned to play the hero, with his dad on the KU bench as the team's director of basketball operations.
4. "They need a miracle." (Jan. 27, 2001)
This was a year in which the Duke-North Carolina rivalry took backstage to the blood feud between the Blue Devils and Maryland. They played each other four times in '00-01, the last coming in the Final Four in Minneapolis, but the "Miracle Minute" at Cole Fieldhouse in January is the moment that endured. In truth, Jason Williams did most of the damage in 15 seconds: Duke, ranked No. 2 in the coaches' poll, trailed the eighth-ranked Terps 90-80 with less than a minute left in regulation when Williams drove the lane for a layup, cutting the deficit to eight. ESPN's Mike Patrick then said, "They need a miracle" -- and Williams promptly stole the ball from Drew Nicholas in the backcourt and hit a three to cut the lead to five. Williams hit another three with 40.4 seconds left to get within two points, Nate James tied the game at 90-90 with two free throws, and Duke went on to win in overtime, capping the decade's most stunning comeback.
5. "It's not how tall, it's how long." (April 7, 2003)
Syracuse's Hakim Warrick was in the middle of the lane when he saw Kansas' Kirk Hinrich kick the ball to Michael Lee in the corner, with the Jayhawks trailing 80-78 in the final seconds of the 2003 national title game. Warrick took two long strides, then used his entire, incredible wingspan to swat Lee's shot out of bounds, and help seal Orange coach Jim Boeheim's first (and only) national championship. 'Cuse's title run made a larger statement to the hoops world about instant-impact freshmen, as its two stars were rookies Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara. Anthony took the one-and-done route and became a member of the NBA elite, while McNamara was a four-year hero and now sits on the Orange bench as a graduate assistant.
6. "Batista with the cAAAAAAAAATCH!" (March 23, 2006)
UCLA's furious comeback to beat Gonzaga in the 2006 NCAA tournament -- capped by CBS announcer Gus Johnson's classic scream-call -- marked the end of the year of RedMo, or Duke's J.J. Redick and the Zags' Adam Morrison. Both of the game's offensive stars, who battled for the national scoring title and player of the year honors, lost in the Sweet 16 and ended their college careers in tears. Morrison's exit was more poignant, as he sat on the court in Oakland and bawled uncontrollably. It was almost foreshadowing of the struggles to come for the two icons, who were both selected in the first round of the '06 NBA draft, but struggled to find their way as pros.
7. "I couldn't give a s--- about North Carolina right now." (April 7, 2003)
Then-Kansas coach Roy Williams delivered the most memorable line in the history of losing-locker room interviews when, following the '03 national title game, he told CBS' Bonnie Bernstein what he thought of the job opening at his alma mater in Chapel Hill. But Ol' Roy did leave for Carolina that offseason, in what was the most meaningful coaching change of the decade. Two years later he won his first championship, with an inherited starting lineup of Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Jackie Manuel, Sean May and Jawad Williams. Then in 2009, Williams took his own recruits -- led by the player of the decade, Tyler Hansbrough -- to a second national title, beating Michigan State in Detroit.
8. Hawk Heaven (All season, 2003-04)
As Sports Illustrated college basketball covers go, was there any more unlikely than Saint Joseph's and Jameer Nelson, "the little man from the little school that's beating everyone"? The Hawks were the only team to finish a regular season undefeated this decade, capping off a 27-0 campaign by beating St. Bonaventure on March 2. That they lost to Xavier in their first Atlantic 10 tournament game, and missed the Final Four by one John Lucas III shot, is immaterial; St. Joe's '03-04 club will still go down as one of the greatest success stories of the decade. As SI's Michael Bamberger wrote in his story on the Hawks from that February, "[Coach Phil Martelli] knows what's going on: He's got the best backcourt in college basketball, the best player in college basketball and a modest, small regional school just aching for the chance to stick an index finger in the air with the whole country watching. He knows what's going on. You can coach your whole life, and if you're lucky, really lucky, you might get a team like this -- once."
9. "Here comes Mateen" (April 3, 2000)
Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves was writhing in pain on one baseline, having landed on Florida's Teddy Dupay after a hard foul early in the second half of the national title game. Cleaves was clutching his ankle and screaming, "It's broke! It's broke!" -- and a nation of viewers was wondering if the Flintstones' lead, as well as their championship hopes, would soon evaporate. Cleaves disappeared to the Spartans' locker room, but it soon became clear that he'd exaggerated the nature of his injury, as he returned to the court in faux-Willis Reed fashion to help seal a victory, skipping across the court in celebration. Coach Tom Izzo took Michigan State to three more Final Fours over the decade, establishing his program as a national powerhouse, but 2000 is his only season that ended with a win.
10. Year of the Freshman (as defined on Jan. 16, 2007)
The NBA's age-limit rule -- requiring that players needed to be 19 and a year out of high school to enter the draft -- was announced in July 2005, but its impact on the college game wasn't felt until early '07, when a phenomenon known as Kevin Durant took the nation by storm. The spindly 18-year-old put on one of his greatest shows in the game of the '06-07 season, a 105-103 triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. While the Cowboys' Mario Boggan scrapped his way to 37 points, Durant matched him with 37 and kept getting caught laughing by ESPN2 cameras during tense moments. He was just a kid, but it was all coming so easy to him. In the Year of the Freshman, Durant went on to win national player of the year honors, and an Ohio State team led by two rookies, Greg Oden and Mike Conley, made a run all the way to the national title game.