Final seconds. The game is tight and so is your throat. You're hot, tired and you just don't want to take that last shot. What to do? If you're playing for Villanova University, you relax. You've got Rory Sparrow.
Sparrow doesn't only win an occasional game with last-second heroics—he's making a career of it. As a freshman he sent a game against West Virginia into overtime with a basket in the final second, and since then he has brought off the cardiac caper often enough to be dubbed the Buzzer Beater. Five times the Wildcat guard, now a senior, has won games for Villanova with just a tick or two remaining. Some examples:
?Feb. 4, 1978—Villanova trails George Washington 58-57 with 28 seconds to play. Unable to work the ball inside, Sparrow takes an off-balance 10-footer with eight seconds remaining. The shot goes in off the glass; Villanova wins, 59-58.
?March 3, 1978—In the semifinals of the Eastern Eight Conference tournament, Villanova and Pittsburgh have been in a virtual tie for more than seven minutes. With 20 seconds left, Pitt has possession and is playing for the last shot. With seven to go, a Panther is called for charging Sparrow, who takes the in-bounds pass and drives the length of the court through a press to hit a 15-foot shot with one second left. Villanova, 72-70.
?March 17, 1978—In the NCAA East Regionals at Providence, Jim Wisman scores with 39 seconds to play to give Indiana a 60-59 lead over Villanova. Again the plan is to work the ball inside, but again Sparrow has to take the shot. Another off-balance jumper goes in with nine seconds remaining. Though Indiana's Wayne Radford launches a futile 35-foot shot at the buzzer, Villanova wins, 61-60.
?Feb. 6, 1980—Twenty-seven seconds left in a 72-72 game with George Washington. Villanova's Coach Rollie Massimino sets up a play for Forward Alex Bradley but the ball is batted free by GW. Sparrow swoops it up and hits a 16-footer at the buzzer for the win.
?Feb. 12, 1980—Against Rutgers the plan is for anyone but freshman Stewart Granger to take the last shot. With five seconds to play, Granger nonetheless takes the shot from deep in the left corner. The long rebound comes out to Sparrow, who makes another off-balance bank shot at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 70-68 win.
"At the moment it's a thrill and the attention is nice, but you still have to go to practice the next day," Sparrow says. That's it? "Well...all right. I mean I was a little kid, too. You always want people to know you, to whisper, 'He's the hero.' I've done it five times for Villanova, but if you count the projects I lived in, it's been at least 43."
The projects are in West Paterson, N.J., where Sparrow was raised. It was there that he decided the last seconds were the best part of the game.
"I really believe in that thrill of victory and agony of defeat stuff, and in the last seconds I feel that ABC camera right on me," Sparrow says. "There's no pressure. You can call all the time-outs and diagram all the plays you want, but it's going to break down somewhere down the line. Then it's just talent against talent. So you make sure that the wrist is hanging in the right spot and say, 'Let's go home, fellas.' "