Now that a full day has separated us from the surreal, once-in-a-lifetime (at least to date) finish to the 2016 NCAA championship, it has become easier to distill the tangible result — Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 — from the intangible impact.
I can’t stop thinking about a conversation I had last year with Ryden Hines, who is currently a junior at Iona.
At the time, Hines was one of nine Alaskans playing Division I college basketball. Only Liberty’s Calvin Hoffman earned a scholarship without spending a prep year in the Lower 48. For perspective, 12 ESPN Top 100 players in Hines’ high school class (2012) hailed from Texas.
The Last Frontier is just about the last place you’ll find a Division I basketball coach.
Hines was in the eighth grade when Mario Chalmers, an Alaska native, curled up the right wing and nailed a last-second three-pointer, forcing overtime and sparking Kansas’ 2008 national championship victory over Memphis. That summer, Hines’ family installed a rubber-tiled basketball court in their backyard. Hines and his friends dubbed the right wing “Mario’s Spot” and alternated roles imitating Sherron Collins, the point guard who somehow shoveled a pass to Chalmers as he slipped and fell to the floor, and the hero himself.
Chalmers was a beacon of hope, a living, breathing, championship-winning reminder that Hines and other Alaskans could make a name for themselves on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Hines attributed his chance at Division I basketball, in part, to Chalmers’ inspirational shot.
There are several parallels between Mario’s Miracle and what many have called Villanova’s Perfect Ending. The play setting up Kris Jenkins’ game-winning, buzzer-beating three was eerily similar, with Ryan Arcidiacono dribbling center to right against a double team and feeding the shooter. Jenkins trailed the play, however, while Chalmers came across the wing.
But the most striking similarity might have been the profound impact Jenkins’ shot could have on aspiring basketball players.
At 6-foot-6, Jenkins weighed in the vicinity of 280 pounds when he graduated high school. He was a four-star recruit. He could shoot, and his talent was evident. But his weight limited him. Add in the well-documented story about his mother asking the Britt family — whose son, Nate, is a sophomore at North Carolina — to adopt him, and Jenkins’ path to this moment was littered with adversity.
He persevered through all that and last year, when he averaged 6.3 points in 18.6 minutes per game, to earn this moment.
Every basketball game — even the most meaningless and forgettable — has a result. One team wins. The other loses.
But one of the sport’s appealing qualities is its tendency to transcend that result. Every now and then, something truly special happens — like Mario’s Miracle or Marcus Paige sinking a circus three-pointer to tie a championship with 4.7 seconds left only to be topped by Jenkins who, like Chalmers, might inspire a certain demographic.
Without a doubt, kids will imitate Jenkins’ Jumper in schoolyards and gyms across Philadelphia and, really, America for many days to come. Some will be overweight. Some will have experienced unusual childhoods.
Hines is proof that a moment on a court can transcend the game itself. Maybe one day another adopted son or formerly overweight college basketball player will tell a similar story about Jenkins.