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For the Record
Marty Dobrow
April 02, 2007
The Boys of Buzzer
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April 02, 2007

For The Record

The Boys of Buzzer

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WITH 45 SECONDS left in the Division II national championship game last Saturday in Springfield, Mass., fans of Barton College were chanting, "We believe," which sounded ridiculously optimistic. Barton, a school of 925 in Wilson, N.C., was trailing 74--67 to Winona State—which, at 35--0, was the only undefeated team in the NCAA's three divisions. Earlier in the huddle Barton coach Ron Lievense had turned to point guard Anthony Atkinson and said, "It's time for you to take over the game. We need you now more than ever."

And for the third time in as many games Atkinson, the son of a preacher, rewarded the faith of his coach and his fans. The 5'10", 155-pound senior scored 10 points in the final 39 seconds—capped by a layup at the buzzer—lifting Barton to a 77--75 victory. Said Atkinson, "We used everything we learned throughout the season."

Ah, yes, the season. Barton came into the Elite Eight with a crunch-time legacy for the ages, having played an NCAA record-tying eight overtime games during the season—and won them all. The Bulldogs made it 9 for 9 in the quarterfinals against Grand Valley State on Atkinson's 30-footer at the OT buzzer. The semis were a comparative laugher, with Atkinson hitting the winning free throw with 1.5 seconds left in regulation for an 80--79 win over Cal State--San Bernardino. "I don't think he's human," said teammate L.J. Dunn.

Atkinson is preternaturally cool. After a hard-fought win on Senior Night, he took the microphone to midcourt, dropped to his knees and proposed to his girlfriend, Barton basketball player Veronica Johnson. But even Atkinson—who hopes to play pro ball somewhere next year—seemed amazed with Saturday's finale. After the winning basket, he put his hands over his head and raced around the court in an uncanny imitation of another championship moment in North Carolina history: Jim Valvano's 1983 victory lap. Said Lievense, "I don't see how any ending could be any better—ever."

Died
Of cancer at age 67, Ernie Wright, a three-time AFL All-Star offensive lineman who played for the Chargers and the Bengals. After his career ended in 1972, Wright (above) helped start a program that introduced golf to underprivileged kids in San Diego. "He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks," his son Howard told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "He was able to escape because he grew to be 6'4" and 270 pounds and played football. But he knew the opportunities to escape were very limited for others, so he wanted to give back for his success."

Recommended
By a Pentagon report, that nine officers—including four generals—be held accountable for errors in the aftermath of the death of Pat Tillman. The former NFL star was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004 (SI, Sept. 11, 2006). Although several soldiers knew immediately that Tillman was shot by his comrades, the Army maintained for five weeks that he was killed by enemy combatants. The report, which was released by the Defense Department's inspector general on Monday, focused on how high the cover-up went. It does not recommend specific punishments, but it suggests that the Army look into holding nine officers accountable.

Named
As coach of the Mexican national basketball team, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. The 65-year-old El Paso native said, "There's been a lot of people in that area that are big time into Mexico [who] wanted to see if I could somehow maybe get them qualified for the Olympics." Mexico has not made the Olympics since 1976. Qualifying for the 2008 Games begins later this year.

Spotted
At a strip club while on bereavement leave, Portland forward Zach Randolph. On March 19 the team gave Randolph permission to go to Indiana for the funeral of his girlfriend's cousin. The next night, after his teammates beat the Wizards without him, Randolph was seen at the Exotica International Club for Men in Portland, where he allegedly left without paying his $106 bar tab. ("He'll pay it next time," the club's manager told the Portland Tribune.) Randolph said he simply stopped off at the club on his way to the airport. The Blazers won all three games Randolph (below) missed, and when he returned to the team on Sunday, he was left out of the starting lineup.

Explained
By Michael Vick, why he was carrying a water bottle with a hidden compartment at the Miami airport earlier this year. The Falcons' quarterback was stopped on Jan. 17 when he tried to take a specially modified water bottle through the security checkpoint. After Vick threw it away, screeners retrieved the bottle; police said they found what appeared to be marijuana residue in the hidden compartment. But prosecutors later said that there were no drugs in the bottle. Vick finally spoke about the incident last week, saying that he was using the bottle to carry jewelry. "They took the bottle," Vick said. "I don't know what they did with the bottle. I guess they were trying to, I don't want to say frame me, but at the same time look at what I had to go through." Asked about Vick's claims, a police spokeswoman said, "That's the first we've heard of that."

Apologized
After being arrested and charged with DUI, Tony La Russa. The Cardinals' manager was found asleep at the wheel of his SUV around midnight on March 22 and failed a Breathalyzer test. The following day he managed the Cards' 2--1 loss to the Marlins and received a warm ovation from fans before the game. "It was an embarrassment, so I apologize to anyone who is close to me, members of the Cardinals' organization, our fans," La Russa said after the game. "I regret it, take responsibility, and I'm not sure there is anything else I can say."

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