By Josh Adams
Brooklyn- Everyone in the Barclay’s Center knew who was getting the ball. The ushers, the employees working at the ticket booths, the crowd and most importantly the VCU coaching staff. With 10.9 seconds left on the clock in overtime, Shamorie Ponds was going to get the ball in his hands and try to win the game for the Red Storm. The star point guard from Brooklyn took the inbounds pass and weaved his way through the Rams defense and floated in a layup from an impossible angle to give his team the lead. No one could stop him. No one in a city of 8 million people is a better basketball player than Shamorie Ponds. He proved it in the span of two days in wins over California and VCU. He was named the tournament MVP after shattering the Legends Classic scoring record.
In a game that had 24 lead changes and 16 ties, every possession mattered. Ponds career high of seven steals took the ball out of VCU’s hands at opportune times. A steal that resulted in a Marvin Clark slam brought the Red Storm within 1 with less than three minutes left set the tone for the rest of the game.
The superlatives came pouring in from both Ponds opponents and his teammates and his coach after the win.
“Shamorie is the best player I ever played with.”, said teammate LJ Figueroa, “It was incredible to just watch him.”
“He has an incredible feel and instinct for the game.”, said Chris Mullin about Ponds, “He made a few incredibly difficult shots. Those are shots only he can make.”
“We knew he was going to get the ball out of the timeout and we tried to keep him out of the middle”, said VCU Coach Mike Rhoades. “He got to his left and made a heck of a shot.”
What made this win all the more sweeter for Ponds is his history at the Barclay’s Center. He lost a state championship to a buzzer beater on the same floor. This time it would be different. “Coming down to the last shot I replayed that in my head, how we lost at Barclay’s.”, said Ponds, “I didn’t want to go out like that. I’m just glad we’re champs.”
As VCU’s Marcus Evans last second shot fell short (he appeared to have been fouled but good luck getting that call in that situation) Ponds jumped on the scorers table and raised his arms in the air. The ghosts that clearly bothered him about that heartbreaking loss were exhumed on Tuesday night.
New York is the city where anyone can come in and reinvent yourself. This is a city of second and third chances. Ponds as a native son of New York decided to stay home and attend St. John’s. He then got his second chance at a championship that could be won in Brooklyn and grasped it. It’s an endearing story to any New Yorker. On my Uber ride home from Barclay’s I shared a ride with a fan who watched the game. We talked about how well Ponds played and how he’s been following his career since high school. He shared his dream about becoming a personal barber to an NBA team and that he just finished cosmetology school at age fifty. I asked him what he liked the most about Ponds and he mentioned the high school game that Ponds lost. “He’s humble”, said my new Uber friend, “He came back from that and look at him now. He has a free ride in college. We’re lucky. We’ll know him at nineteen before he’s like 27 and is the point guard for the Sixers or something. His whole life is ahead of him.”
Then he looked down for a second and then said quietly, “And so is mine.”