Feb. 27, 1999, was an unforgettable afternoon at The George Washington University.
The magic of that night didn’t start 20 years ago, but about six years earlier, when George Washington’s basketball program got an infusion of juice.
Juice, jam … whatever you call it, they reached out and grabbed it, tearing it down from the heavens and placing it in One Shining Moment. It was Mike Jarvis, and the late Yinka Dare, and Kwame Evans, and Vaughn Jones and Nimbo Hammons who created the magic of the Sweet 16 run in 1993, one that tripled the applications that came into the university.
Maybe it even got mine, too. I originally wanted to go to Villanova, if we’re being honest, but GW made a commitment to me, and I to them.
From Day 1, basketball was our A-No. 1 on-campus pursuit. Everything revolved around the games, and we almost never missed one – an we’re talking women’s games, too. If you missed a game, people wondered aloud if you were in the hospital, and we didn’t have cell phones to check on each other.
We raised high and even got a little too crazy at times – yelling a priest, nearly getting in a front-row brawl on ESPN, and chants that crossed the line were a few that come to mind – but we loved our ball clubs.
Fred Sakai, former WRGW basketball voice and travel coordinator: GW hoops is more than just the names from recent memory. Without Shawnta Rogers, Mike King, Yegor Mescheriakov, Sasha Koul, Yinka Dare there is no Carl Elliott, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Yuta Watanabe, Tyler Cavanuagh, etc.
Our senior year, we got an unbelievable opportunity to be the first students to fully staff all the men’s and women’s games for WRGW, with the university funding and supporting us. Our station then was a ragtag pile of wires and old microphones, and when vice president Bob Chernak called us into his office one day, we thought the jig was finally up on our Fake Heart Attack Play in rec league football.
Instead, the administration gave us a shot to take this project and make something of it. Our performance, they said, would determine if the project would be funded in the future. If you’ve seen the radio facilities at GW now, you know it worked. Our statue hasn’t arrived yet, I guess.
Marc Birnbaum, former WGRW basketball voice and WRTV sports director: The administration was very generous. I remember when we went to the NCAA tournament, they took the band, the cheerleaders and us too. It was a wonderful learning experience, a chance to grow and develop life skills, and it was a source of lifelong memories.
Oscar Jovel and I called the first Xavier game that year in Cincinnati, and sadly, when the Memphis Grizzlies scout kicked our line out and interrupted our broadcast, the fans back home didn’t miss much. The Musketeers had their way with us and won by 20, but they always were tough at home.
We had an awesome season, though, but when Atlantic-10 player of the year Shawnta Rogers got the flu late in February, the dream could have ended. We had Virginia Tech coming in on a Wednesday, and I can’t remember exactly but Shawnta either played very little or not at all. Somehow, the fellas pulled it out by 10, but we knew we had Xavier looming.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with Shawnta Rogers, you need to know he led the Atlantic-10 in scoring, assists and steals that season at 5-foot-4. Well, maybe 5-foot-4. Once he stepped on the elevator where my good friend Sheilah Bradley (nee Moran) and I were waiting for our floor, and I was pretty sure 5-foot-2 Sheilah could have posted him up.
What Shawnta did in major college basketball was extraordinary, and putting his immense and once-in-a-lifetime talent into words is tough even for me.
Fred: “The Shot” was amazing, but Shawnta was more than just the one shot. For 3 1/2 years, he led the team not only as the floor leader, but in stats as well.
As we got to Saturday afternoon, Oscar and I headed to the gym and saw sports information director Brad Bower out on the floor. We looked at him and he already knew the question was about whether Shawnta was playing.
“I don’t know,” he said.
We didn’t have Bracketology then – something that has ruined much of the fun of college hoops, in my opinion, but I digress – but we knew one thing. The winner between Xavier and GW was going to the Big Dance, and the other was not.
Oscar Jovel, former WRGW basketball voice: We knew the game was big. We got crushed in Cincinnati.
Shawnta came out for warmups and we breathed a sigh of relief, while simultaneously having something to talk about on the pregame broadcast. He was not himself in the first half, but we stayed in it.
Oscar: Only thing I remember from the first half was that we decided to go with a “producer-less game.” No breaks. We sat at the end of the press row since the game was on TV. Marc filled in for a little while at halftime.
Marc: I remember watching the game from the floor as we were about to leave for the women’s game. I was down in the corner near the entrance to the Smith Center, and I knew we didn’t have time to watch overtime and get to the other game on time.
One strong memory from the game was a dunk by James Posey that I recall describing as “beyond the abilities of mortal men” as a nod to the old Superman show from the 1950s.
Oscar: Posey threw down the most vicious dunk I have ever seen in person.
We were down and for a while, it did not look good, but the fellas rallied and tied it at 74-74. When we took the ball out with 34 seconds left, I will admit I was having trouble balancing roles as radio announcer and GW superfan. What I remember from the play was watching Shawnta dribble the ball outside and realizing the shot clock was running down before the game clock.
“It looks Shawnta wants to shoot this shot!” was the last coherent thing I recall saying.
Just before that, though, as I watch the tape back, I see Andry Sola being so out of the play that he is wiping the bottoms of his shoes in the corner while Shawnta dribbles. (Though Jay Bilas, then a fledgling ESPN hoops announcer, said to watch out for Sola.)
Roey Eyal was the inbound passer, something I also would not have recalled without the magic of YouTube. But I could have told you 20 years later that Yegor Mecheriakov and Mike King were the other two guys in the game.
Shockingly, with 2 on the shot clock, Shawnta passed to Yegor, then quickly got the ball back. It is a miracle he released a shot before the shot clock buzzer, almost having to fire it up off the catch.
The next 5 seconds, I lost my wits, and my play-by-play was unintelligible. But when King got the bouncing ball in his hands and flipped it back to Shawnta, I finally found my voice again.
“SHAWNTA SHOOOOOOOTS ……”
Marc: As soon as the shot went up, I knew it was good.
Then, pandemonium. We had people jumping over us to rush the floor, and I didn’t have to say anything else for a while, since Oscar was going bananas next to me saying something almost as incoherent as my five-second lapse.
Oscar: It was madness. We had to protect the equipment as everyone was rushing the court. After two postgame interviews we had to rush back and get the station back on the air with regular programming.
You can’t script stuff like that in the last game of your senior year, and we did indeed go on to the NCAA Tournament.
I always told the guys that as we got older, the shot would get longer, Shawnta would get shorter and the flu he was fighting all week will morph into a terminal disease.
But the memories have not changed after 20 years. It was a fantastic day, easily a top-3 all-time sports moment for me that I have experienced in person.
Happy anniversary, Shawnta. Thanks for the good times.