Ten years ago, Drew Nicholas got a request from his older brother before the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He wanted 30 points on his 30th birthday.
"When I spoke to him after the game," Nicholas recalled, "I said, 'I know I didn't get you 30 points but I hope 22 and a buzzer-beater is close enough.' He gladly took that as his birthday present."
Now flashback to March 21, 2003 . . .
Nicholas, who grew up in Hempstead and graduated from Long Island Lutheran in 1999, and the sixth-seeded defending national champion Maryland Terrapins were five seconds from being upset by No. 11 UNC Wilmington. But five seconds is more than enough time to etch one's name into the lore of March Madness, where buzzers are meant to be broken.
"It doesn't feel like it was 10 years ago that I was running down that court with the ball," Nicholas said. "Sometimes I see the shot pop up and I can't believe it's me. It gives me a chance to relive the moment."
With the Terps trailing by one and inbounding under their own basket, a screen was set for Steve Blake but he was unable to break free.
"Coming out of the timeout, I remember telling [inbounder] Tahj Holden, if Steve isn't open, I'm coming back for the ball and I'm going to try to make something happen."
Nicholas retrieved the inbounds pass, rushed downcourt and dribbled to the right wing, shadowed by two defenders. His momentum carried him away from the basket as he jumped off his left foot and released an off-balance, high-arcing three over the outstretched hand of his defender.
"Honestly, I didn't think it was going in," he said. "I was going so fast and by the time I put it up, I thought I left it short. But it was all net, man."
The swish of the net came just after the buzzer as the Terps won, 75-73, to advance to the next round.
"It's something I dreamed about growing up in Hempstead," Nicholas said of the shot. "To be able to say that I've done that is something I'll have with me for the rest of my life."
Nicholas, who was Newsday's Nassau boys basketball player of the year in 1999, had a 10-year career overseas, winning two EuroLeague championships and a scoring title. He spent four years in Italy, three years in Greece, two years in Istanbul, and half a year in Russia.
Now living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he's beginning the next phase of his career as a basketball studio analyst for Total College Sports. Instead of making buzzer-beaters, he's now breaking them down.
"I'm always really happy for the kid who hit it just because I know exactly what they are feeling at that moment," Nicholas said. "It's one of those feelings where you would want everybody to have that same feeling, even if it's just once, because there's nothing like it."
Nicholas called his older brother Chris, who played at LuHi and Colgate, his inspiration for playing basketball. A week and a half ago, almost 10 years to the day after his famous shot, Nicholas made the trip from Florida to New Jersey for Chris' surprise birthday dinner. But . . .
"No big shots from any family members on my 40th birthday," Chris Nicholas joked. "So it was a little bit of a letdown."