“When I shot it, the only thing that went through my mind was: It's good.”
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
What I remember most are two things: the shot, and my teammates tackling me right after. Those two thoughts go hand in hand. The three-pointer I hit at the buzzer to beat North Carolina last April was the kind of shot you practice all the time growing up. At the end of a workout I would have someone count down—five, four, three. . . . And then shoot. You can rehearse it, you can envision it, but very rarely do you get the chance to do it, let alone in a national championship game. When I would practice it like that, I never pretended that I was on a particular team or that I was another player. I was always myself, because that’s who I wanted to take the shot.
Things have been pretty crazy in the months since then. People come up to me all the time, everywhere I go—on my way to class or to lunch, when I’m chilling with my teammates, eating dinner with my family, going to the movies or walking around the mall. They tell me where they were when they watched the shot, or they ask me what was going through my mind at the time. Before the play, with the score tied at 74 with 4.7 seconds left, I knew Ryan Arcidiacono would have the ball and I would be the trail man. I was expecting Arch to make the right play, the way he always does. Usually the right play for him in that situation is to shoot, but from what he saw the defense doing, the right play was to kick it back to me 29 feet from the hoop. When I shot it, the only thing that went through my mind was: It’s good.
I’ve re-created the shot only once, for a segment on SportsCenter the week after the title game, with Ryan and Daniel Ochefu, who was trying to set a screen for Ryan. I made seven of 11 attempts. I had no nerves at all about trying it again. I wasn’t even nervous when I shot the one to win the championship. It was just a natural instinct: catch and shoot.
Hearing what that championship meant to the Villanova community has blown me away. I couldn’t believe the outpouring of support we had at the victory parade through Philadelphia, or how proud people were of the way we represented the city. That was really special. And when our team attended the ESPYs in July, it was cool getting to meet guys like Charles Barkley and Tristan Thompson. DeAndre Jordan told me he was watching the game with his brothers, and as soon as I shot it, he knew it was good. I congratulated Kyrie Irving—whose Nikes I was wearing when I hit my shot—on his game-winning three for the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. He told me, “It must be the shoes.”
But the coolest experience was definitely when the team visited the White House and President Obama. He called me my nickname, Big Smoove, which caught me off guard, and I got to shake his hand. Growing up in Washington, you pass the White House all the time. Actually getting to go inside and meet the President is something I will never forget.
It was tempting to go out on that high note and enter the NBA draft a year early. I did test the waters, but after talking to my family, my coaches and my teammates, I decided that if I came back for my senior year, the only thing I could do is put myself in a better situation. I can improve in so many ways. Then I can try an NBA career while I have my college degree, which I promised my family I would get on time. That was an important motivating factor.
This might be surprising, but I haven’t seen the shot that much. I watched it a few times on my phone when we were traveling back from Houston because I was still in shock. I catch it sometimes on the highlights that play in the lobby of our practice facility. And the back of my cellphone case has a picture of it. Still, I honestly don’t think about it much. I’ve just been trying to focus on the upcoming season and what we have to do as a team to get back to the finals. But when I’m done playing basketball 20 years from now, it’ll probably be something I think about each and every day.