MARCH 3, 2013
This is an article from the Dec. 2, 2013 issue
New York State Section I-AA Title Game New Rochelle vs. Mount Vernon
You've probably seen it.
Even if you don't follow sports, you could hardly have avoided it. All you had to do was be somewhere near the nozzle of video clips that gush forth each day, borne by emails, tweets, texts and posts. And if you were doing your taxes or cleaning out your garage that Sunday afternoon last spring and weren't among the hundreds of thousands who saw the footage during the first few hours after the game, chances are you caught it when you came back to civilization: that evening on SportsCenter or the next day on Today or Good Morning America or over the months leading up to and including the ESPYs in July, when the shot came within a Jadeveon Clowney hit of being named the year's Best Play.
To review, and to enlighten you benighted few, here is what happened at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, on March 3, in the New York State Section I-AA boys' basketball title game. With 2.9 seconds to play, the Huguenots of New Rochelle High (12--9) trail the team that has won a record seven sectional championships in a row, the 19--1 Mount Vernon Knights, 60--58. From beneath his own basket New Rochelle's Khalil Edney, a 6'4" senior forward, launches a pass toward half-court. The camera, following the flight of the heave, shows a Mount Vernon player leaping to knock the ball away. Another Knight comes down with it, apparently ending the game.
But the Mount Vernonite with the ball now tosses it into the air, in the vague direction of a teammate. Edney bounds into the frame to catch it. From well beyond half-court he launches a 55-foot shot that traces a clean path through the basket.
The Huguenots' players and coaches and fans erupt. Then the senior referee waves the shot off, a decision that touches off a jubilee from Mount Vernon's players and coaches and fans. As the cameras pan over the celebrations, the officials huddle for 10 seconds, and the crew chief, persuaded by his two partners, reverses himself and counts the basket—correctly, replays will confirm. But when the refs leave the floor, they have no way of knowing they were right, for they are barred by New York State Public High School Athletic Association rules from consulting a video monitor.
Mike Zacchio, a part-time reporter with a Westchester County daily, the Journal-News, captured the finish from courtside on his smart phone and quickly tweeted out a link. In the locker room, seconds after stripping off his uniform, Edney himself found an ESPN screen grab of his shot attached to an incoming text. A day later someone posted a version set to the "Harlem Shake." It was all enough to rewrite Andy Warhol: In the future, every 2.9 seconds will be famous for 15 minutes.
Not since The Dick Van Dyke Show has New Rochelle been part of such compulsively watchable small-screen entertainment. But Internet sensations tend to pass through the news cycle and evanesce before we can get a purchase on the nitty-gritty of why and how and who. And so, as 2013 recedes, it's worth asking:
Why didn't the Mount Vernon player who came down with the ball simply duck and cover for the final second, with the game secure in his hands?
How did the officials sort out what would quickly become the most scrutinized high school call of all time?
And who is Khalil (Pop) Edney, the guy in that cutaway shot at the ESPYs—the one in the audience wearing clear, black-rimmed glasses, a multicolored shirt and an ear-to-ear grin amid a sea of shades, monochromatic suits and too-cool-for-prime-time expressions? The young man who, after losing his mother to cervical cancer, had MAMA's boy tattooed on his arms, turning a schoolyard epithet into a credo? The kid who, as his father says, "was taught to never give up until you see all the zeroes on that clock"?
NO ONE could have foretold the ending, least of all when Mount Vernon led 59--50 with 2:30 to play. But Kevin Devaney Jr., who sat courtside with play-by-play partner Keith Irizarry, had long ago pegged Edney as a merchant of impact. "He might score six points, but they'll be a big six points," Devaney says today. "They'll stop a run or come out of a timeout. He always scores bigger than his stats suggest."
Indeed, as the clock ticks down, Devaney and Irizarry drop comment after portentous comment.
Irizarry in the fourth quarter, on Mount Vernon: "They're allowing New Rochelle to hang around."
Devaney draws a parallel between Edney, who had quarterbacked New Rochelle to the state football title four months earlier, and Ray Rice, the Pro Bowl running back for the Super Bowl champion Ravens, who played the point for the New Rochelle team that in 2005 handed Mount Vernon its only sectionals defeat in 13 years.
Down one, Edney fouls Mount Vernon senior forward Jalen David in desperation with the clock reading 2.9. "You don't want to say they need a miracle," Devaney says. "But they need something pretty close to it."
David misses the first free throw and sinks the second, keeping the clock stopped. If he had sunk the first and missed the second, just enough time might have elapsed to ensure a Knights victory.
As Huguenots coach Rasaun (Crabby) Young huddles his team up, Devaney says, "You're a first-year coach, and all you gotta do is draw up a possible game-winning play in a championship."
Irizarry: "If you're New Rochelle, you're hoping Christian Laettner or Bryce Drew is walking through that door right now."
And Devaney: "You have a state championship quarterback on your team—do you make the full-court pass with him?"
You do—from Edney to his favorite receiver, 6'2" senior forward Joe Clarke, who had put New Rochelle on the threshold of victory by scoring 30 muscular but soon-to-be-eclipsed points.
Devaney then invokes a buzzer-beating finish from four years earlier, at the end of a state tournament quarterfinal. Mount Vernon had scored in the final seconds to take a two-point lead over Newburgh Free Academy as time seemed to have expired. Players and fans rushed the floor to celebrate. But officials put two seconds back on the clock, and a 5'10" guard, Will Bouton, banked a 55-footer off the glass to give Newburgh a 71--70 win. "Oh, man," Devaney says, "they cannot endure something like that again."
Irizarry is on the call: "Edney ... tosses it ... it's knocked around, and Mount Vernon's gonna hold on and win.... Oh, hold on one second! ... Oh goodness ... are they gonna count that?"
"No, it doesn't count!"
"They're wiping it off ... I think he got that off!"
"I think he got it off as well! ... Khalil Edney hitting it ... does not count ... the referees are gonna talk it over. And the most amazing shot I've ever seen goes in."
"I think they have to count that!"
"Do we turn the monitors around and let them watch?"
(Neither broadcaster is aware that the rules don't permit them to do that.)
At this point Devaney is holding down the cough button so he can speak to director Will Sanchez in the truck.
"Kevin, it was good!" Sanchez tells him. "Say it was good!"
"We got the replay, he got it off!" Irizarry says.
"The truck is saying he got it off! It is mayhem here at the County Center!"
"We're gonna have a large crowd around us, and these referees are gonna decide the game in this huddle right now...."
"They're counting it! New Rochelle ... Khalil Edney ... absolutely pandemonium!"
"I have no words," Devaney says in a quavering voice. "I have no words." (For this, he will get a good-natured roasting of the Jesuitical, how-can-you-have-words-without-words variety.)
By now the truck has cued up the finish, and a freeze frame in the sequence makes it clear. Edney intercepts at 0.6. And...
"It's loose at point one!" Irizarry says. "It was loose at point one! Khalil Edney!"
A crush of people has formed around their broadcast position. As the replay unspools, Devaney gestures that the shot should count. "I probably shouldn't have done that," he says, reflecting on the chaos at the time. "I could have incited a riot."
Only in reviewing the video later did Devaney notice the reaction of Mount Vernon coach Bob Cimmino after the officials decide to revisit the original call. As the Knights continue to celebrate, and New Rochelle slowly realizes that it might have to process disappointment, Cimmino takes a seat on his bench and unscrews a bottle of water. He's wearing what Devaney calls a "please-get-me-out-of-here-alive" look.
THE NEW ROCHELLE and Mount Vernon high schools sit less than two miles from each other at the southernmost edge of Westchester County. "New Ro" is more than twice as big and, partly as a result, enjoys status as a regional football power. Five times the Huguenots have traveled to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse to play for the state title in that sport, and twice they have won it.
Mount Vernon High is smaller and poorer. Its basketball team is the pride of a city of just four square miles, having turned out such big-time collegians as Rudy Hackett, Lowes Moore and Earl Tatum, as well as the NBA brothers Scooter and Rodney McCray and Gus and Ray Williams. When voters twice rejected the budget after the 2008 economic meltdown, forcing Mount Vernon's school board to drop interscholastic sports, players in uniform panhandled on street corners. With the help of wealthy patrons in neighboring Bronxville, who threw fund-raising cocktail parties, and a $100,000 donation from former Mount Vernon resident Denzel Washington, the school raised $1 million and saved the season.
In two decades of directing the Mount Vernon varsity, there's little a high school coach can do that Bob Cimmino hasn't done. But his accomplishments go beyond 13 sectional championships, six state titles and five New York State Coach of the Year awards. While only 61% of Mount Vernon students graduate, more than 90% of Cimmino's players have earned diplomas. Dozens have gone on to play in college, and two, Ben Gordon and Kevin Jones, reached the NBA. Cimmino also teaches social studies, another vantage point from which to monitor the young men whose welfare so absorbs him that he has been called a real-world White Shadow. Cimmino's attentions begin with summer basketball camps, which hook kids as early as second grade. "Kids at Bob's camps look at Mount Vernon as the New York Knicks," says MSG Varsity reporter Mike Quick. "They know they have a better chance in life if he's watching over them."
The school that wins a Section I title is awarded the Gold Ball, and in the halls of Mount Vernon it has become a March ritual: Seniors carry the trophy into each classroom and display it in the cafeteria during lunch periods. For the program's seriousness and success, native son Heavy D got it right with the lines "Money earnin'/Mount Vernon."
If the Knights have a celebrity patron in Denzel Washington, New Ro's is Rice, who last year bought new uniforms for the football and basketball teams. In the locker room after the Huguenots' sectional semifinal defeat of Mahopac last spring, Rice related what it had meant to beat the Knights in 2005, when he scored 18 points in the 72--65 victory. "It's everybody out there who thinks you can't do it," said Rice. "Not in here." It had been the same for the Ravens before the Super Bowl, he said.
Listening to all this was Rice's cousin, the Huguenots' rookie coach. Rasaun Young had been a player at New Rochelle, perhaps the school's greatest, the MVP of the sectional in 1993 even as his Huguenots lost to Mount Vernon. He went on to become the alltime leading scorer at Buffalo and enjoyed a professional career overseas. After returning home, Young wanted nothing more than to coach at his old school, and in 2001 the position came open. But Young failed to get the job and, swallowing hard, took a position on Cimmino's staff, where he served for five seasons. To be on the opposite sideline in 2005, trying to beat a Huguenots team led by Rice, was a surreal experience. But, he says, "I soaked up everything I could from Coach Cimmino. I went to practices, playoffs, [the state final four in] Glens Falls."
Then, in the summer of 2012, Bill Murphy quit as the Huguenots' coach. New Rochelle had a new athletic director, Steve Young (no relation), who liked how Rasaun Young had developed connections in his hometown, where he served as a firefighter and a school security guard, and ran a youth program at Lincoln Park. During his interview Rasaun said that he wanted to do for this generation what others had done for his, and to the search committee that rang true. "When people call this my first team, I have to smile," he says. "I've known these kids all my life."
One of the things Young had learned from Cimmino was that "a good coach steals from other coaches." With the Huguenots down 30--25 at halftime, Young ordered up a press with a phrase he had learned from Cimmino: "Bring the heat."
Mount Vernon wilted. The Huguenots forced 16 turnovers in the second half, including three in the final minute, to put themselves on the cusp of the upset.
In three of Young's four seasons at Buffalo, Valparaiso had beaten out the Bulls for the Mid-Continent Conference's bid to the NCAA tournament. On one of those occasions the Crusaders had gone on to score a first-round upset of Mississippi when Bryce Drew famously sank a three-pointer, on a play that began where Khalil Edney would find himself—beneath his own basket.
With 2.9 seconds left, New Rochelle set up precisely the same play—Young even called it Valpo. Edney was to find Clarke at midcourt, while Derek Dorn and Sean Fener, auditioning for the Bryce Drew role, each ran a V-cut along the sideline to get open. The Huguenots had worked on the play every day in practice, but never against defense. This would be the first time they would run it live.
Mount Vernon knew enough to have Clarke draped with defenders, including David, who batted Edney's pass away. One of David's teammates came down with the ball, and then...
In the aftermath of Edney's shot you could hear Cimmino's influence in a comment his protégé made. "This is a great highlight," Young told The New York Times. "I just hope this isn't the highlight of their lives."
On Monday morning Cimmino turned on the Today show, figuring it would be a safe harbor from sports. The top-of-the-segment bumper teased two stories: the New York cardinal with a chance to become Pope and a miracle high school shot.
He flipped off the TV and left for school.
Cimmino wouldn't speak for this story, and he declined to make any of his players or staff available. "It's kind of like a funeral," he said in turning down SI's request. "You want to move on and just remember the good." But immediately after the game he told MSG Varsity reporter Chad Cutler, "We've got to go up to the locker room now and help some wounded young men realize that they played hard, and you can't always come up with the finish that you want."
Cimmino had once said something similar under nearly identical circumstances. Two filmmakers followed Mount Vernon during the 2008--09 season, the one that ended with the Knights' sudden loss to Newburgh, for a documentary called Hoop Knight. What Cimmino tells them after losing that playoff game on a 55-foot shot surely applies after losing this one on a 55-foot shot: "When I see them become more and more successful in life, I'm gonna kind of smile, and I'm gonna think to myself, That tremendous setback, the 55-foot shot, had a little something to do with their stubbornness and perseverance."
BOARD 52 of the International Association of Amateur Basketball Officials supplies more than 250 referees for high school games in New York State's Section I. With 34 years of experience Billy Sacco is at or near the top of the ratings year after year. He's also the Board 52 rules interpreter, the man who knows the book cold and to whom every other official goes—literally, the "referee" among referees.
As the trail official on the final play of the boys' I-AA final, the decision on whether Edney beat the horn was Sacco's to make. On a three-man crew the trail man is presumed to have the clearest view of the basket at which a shot is attempted, and Sacco began the play along the baseline from which Edney inbounded. But by the time Edney had advanced upcourt and come back into possession of the ball, Sacco mostly saw Edney's back. Vincent Cannizzaro, a 41-year-old crewmate, stood at midcourt by the far sideline, with an unobstructed view of the shot in profile. And from his position along the near sideline at the opposite end of the floor, the third official, Scott Moroney, 33, had the most comprehensive look—"through the New Rochelle shooter," he says, "at the LED lights around the backboard."
Modern officials don't listen for the horn. They watch for the lights. "Because light travels faster than sound," Cannizzaro says. "I'm an engineer, so I'm really anal about that."
And the two officials with the best views had no doubt. "I know in my head, this ball's clearly good," says Moroney, who began to leave the floor shortly after the horn sounded—something for which he would take plenty of guff from his partners—because he thought Sacco had reached the same conclusion. "I assumed Billy was counting it. I didn't see him wave it off. When I heard the P.A. announcer say, 'No good,' I froze in my tracks."
The three had never before worked as a unit. During the standard meeting at the arena 90 minutes before tip-off, Sacco floated several scenarios that they might confront. "They all happened," Cannizzaro says. "We were really mentally prepared."
Moreover, during a stoppage late in the game, Sacco, Cannizzaro and Moroney reminded one another that none of them bore sole responsibility for whistling the game. "One of the last things we said was, 'If anything crazy happens at the end, let's get together and talk,' " Sacco says. "That really helped us sort this whole thing out. Because if not, I wave it off, we leave the court, and the wrong team wins."
This is how they got it right:
Sacco picked his way to the table to ask the timer, Steve Weiss, if he had an opinion on the shot's legitimacy. Weiss didn't. In the meantime Cannizzaro and Moroney caucused.
"What do you have?" Moroney asked.
"I have it good," Cannizzaro replied.
"So do I."
At this point Sacco had returned from the table. "I'm not 1,000% sure I got it right," he told them. "What have you guys got?"
"We got it good," they said in unison.
"We told him we were 110% sure," Moroney says. "Without even flinching, Billy said, 'I'll go correct it.' And he went over and counted the basket."
From his crewmates, Sacco says, "There was no hesitation. Luckily, for once in my life, I wasn't stubborn."
The officials say they only got confirmation that they had made the correct call when Cannizzaro, checking his phone in the locker room, found a tweet from Devaney relating what the replay had shown. "We talk about it at meetings a lot," Cannizzaro says. " 'Get the play right out on the floor, not after the fact.' " But, he says, "we're talking about one-tenth of a second. That's barely perceptible to the naked eye."
Two weeks later, at the semifinals of the state tournament at the Glens Falls Civic Center, Sacco finished working his game and went off to get something to eat. Walking the concourse, he found himself headed straight toward Bob Cimmino.
The two have known each other for three decades, since each got his start in CYO ball, where Cimmino coached at St. Ursula's in Mount Vernon and Sacco worked his games. Officials are judged in part on their ability to handle players and coaches. And there on that concourse in Glens Falls, Sacco, a retired probation officer, realized that he had one last interaction before he could close the books on what will surely be the most memorable game he would ever work. "O.K., Bob," he said. "Tell me what you've gotta say."
According to Sacco, Cimmino had two things.
First, he didn't believe the clock had started promptly after the ball was touched inbounds.
By all accounts Weiss, the timekeeper at the County Center for the last 15 sectional finals, is unusually fastidious. He regularly wipes off his hands to minimize the chance of a finger slipping. "The clock started pretty much on time," says Moroney, who joined Cannizzaro at Sacco's house several weeks later to review the game tape. "Eye-to-hand reaction time is going to be human, but it was pretty damn fast. What's nice about neutral-site games is your timer isn't a 16-year-old girl or some English teacher collecting a stipend."
Cimmino's other question: Had the officials gotten some sort of signal from Devaney or Irizarry or any partisans in the scrum around the broadcasters that influenced the ultimate decision?
All three referees swear they didn't.
"If they did look over," Devaney says, "they'd better take that to the grave."
FIFTEEN MONTHS before he sank his shot, and 11 months before he quarterbacked New Rochelle to a state football title, Khalil Edney was cut from the varsity basketball team.
After tearing a ligament in the pinkie of his throwing hand, Edney played the rest of his junior football season with two fingers taped together. In the Huguenots' first basketball game of 2011--12, against Mount Vernon, he wore a cast on that finger. But he soon missed three other games because of conflicts with physical therapy sessions. And so it was that heading down a stairwell one afternoon in December 2011, he ran into basketball coach Bill Murphy. "He wanted to know where I'd been," Edney recalls. "I told him therapy. He said that if I wasn't going to be playing, I might as well hand in my uniform. I wasn't going to stand there and argue."
Khalil's real passion has long been football, the game with which his city plants its flag. At nine he told his father that he would go to New Ro High and win a state title. Basketball had always been little more than a pastime, a way to stay in shape for football and hang out with friends.
After his wife's death on Thanksgiving Day in 2006, Lewis Edney had raised Khalil and his three brothers on his salary as a custodian at a school for special-needs children. The Edney town house is filled with jerseys, plaques and laminated clippings, and the husks of casts from old injuries mark adversities overcome. "He did all this in football," Lewis says, gesturing at the memorabilia. "And one basketball shot overshadowed everything!"
There is much to overshadow. In the fall of 2012, in the state semifinal against Shaker High, New Rochelle had let a 20--0 lead evaporate in the fourth quarter. Taking possession on his own 35-yard line with a minute and a half to play and no timeouts, Edney led the team 65 yards in the final minute, finding his co-captain, Clarke, in the end zone with a 12-yard pass to clinch a 28--21 win. Pop and Joe, number 7 and number 11, were the Huguenots' lucky combination.
A week later Edney led New Rochelle into the Carrier Dome to meet Orchard Park for the state championship. It was Nov. 24, six years to the day since his mother's death. This was the same stage on which another New Rochelle quarterback, his brother Lewis Jr., had broken his ankle early in the undefeated Huguenots' 14--7 loss to North Tonawanda in the 2009 championship game. But on this day New Rochelle won 34--6.
After Murphy resigned in the spring of 2012, Edney thought he might go out for basketball again, particularly if Rasaun Young got the job. Over the summer he found himself playing pickup and AAU basketball with a couple of football teammates as well as several varsity basketball returnees. "As the years go by," he says, "you start to have a love for the game." As Khalil wound up telling his father, "You always told me to finish what I started. I started with these guys, and I'm gonna finish with them."
New Rochelle's basketball team tends to start slowly because its football players go so deep into the playoffs. Without Edney, Clarke and Terrance Holden, they had little depth in the frontcourt, and at one point their record stood at 2--6. But Young found himself bristling when someone suggested that he didn't have winners on his team. "We have champions," he said. "Not basketball champions, but guys who have proven they can win at that level."
The 2012--13 team featured eight seniors, and steadily the Huguenots began to cohere. They were 9--9, seeded ninth, as they entered sectional play. Eight days before the final, Edney sprained his ankle in a scrimmage. When Ray Rice delivered his pep talk after the semifinal, Edney wore street clothes. He still considered himself only 75% when he suited up that Sunday. Yet as the Huguenots set up Valpo, watching from his seat in the stands, football coach Lou DiRienzo thought to himself, Third and long. Edney to Clarke.
Elsewhere in the stands, Khalil's 14-year-old brother, D-Waynne, turned to their father. "Daddy," he said, "we do this all the time in the park."
But the action would not follow any familiar script. Before he took his shot—"I think," Lewis Sr. would say, "his mother gave that shot a little push"—Edney threw his pass. And that pass wound up in the hands of a long-armed, 6'4" Mount Vernon wingman wearing number 20.
That player, junior Devonte Banner, became the subject of ghoulish curiosity in the aftermath of the game. Without speaking to him it's impossible to know why he gave the ball up, and Cimmino has been particularly protective after Banner became the target of harassment. "I don't think he went to school the next day," says Quick. "Bob is being the mother hen, protecting his flock."
But it does seem likely that by getting rid of the ball, Banner was neither celebrating prematurely nor entirely trying to exhaust the clock. When they get the ball far from the basket, bigger men are conditioned to try to put it in the hands of smaller ones. And Knights point guard Traquan (Boogie) Scales was in Banner's line of sight, waving his arms.
Edney supports this. "My reaction wasn't based on the ball being in the air," he says. "It was based on Boogie calling for the ball. I thought, 'Hey, they might pass to him because he's the point guard—just jump in front of him and get the ball out of your hands.' That's what I did." It was a football instinct—the prospect of an INT—that led Edney to sprint forward.
Yet on the website Rant Sports TV, after screening the finish, a Cruella de Vil of an anchor intoned ominously, "I wonder what's going to happen to that careless player from Mount Vernon?"
Good things, more likely than not. Twice in the first half of the New Rochelle game Banner punctuated a steal with a dunk. When Cimmino would report the team's GPA to his players, he'd make a point to say that Banner's helped boost the aggregate figure; the coach had once even called him an Ivy League prospect who makes the smart plays. "I have a feeling that Mount Vernon is going to win a championship, and he'll play very well," Devaney says. "Unfortunately, in sports, there's always got to be someone to blame. And it was such a fluke thing, Devonte Banner shouldn't be crucified for anything."
A Mount Vernon player who graduated in June sticks up for his teammate. "I don't blame anybody," says Gary Johnson, who knows well that two other Knights committed turnovers in the final minute. "It's a team sport. We could have played better the whole game. Devonte is gonna get better off of this. And that shot should motivate everybody on the team."
New Rochelle would win three more games over the next two weeks to reach the state final in Glens Falls. There the Huguenots ran up against Bishop Kearney of Rochester, a team with a Division I--ready frontline that went 6'10", 6'9" and 6'8". They lost by six, and over 32 minutes Khalil Edney couldn't do once from anywhere what he had done in a tenth of a second from 55 feet.
But life went on. Edney spent the summer playing AAU basketball and working for a moving company in Larchmont. He and his coach went out to L.A. for the ESPYs. He found that all sorts of eminences—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Michael Phelps—knew of his shot and were delighted to meet him. But the highlight was that moment poolside at the J.W. Marriott Hotel when he spotted his idol, former NFL quarterback Vince Young, and introduced himself. Edney explained why he was there. Then Young noticed the rock on Edney's finger. "What's that?" he asked.
"My state championship ring for football."
The two fell into conversation as only two quarterbacks can. Young's astonishment at learning that the shooter of the shot was also a quarterback only underscored what Edney still hasn't quite gotten over. "Basketball is the reason I'm famous," he says. "And football has taken a backseat."
But today football is back up front, and Joe Clarke is still riding shotgun. The two play juco football at Dean College in Franklin, Mass., where they share a dorm room overlooking the practice field. This fall Edney threw three touchdown passes as the Bulldogs went 6--4. A sports management major, he plans to play one more season at Dean and accelerate his course load so he can graduate in December 2014 and transfer to a four-year school. "He got on the service road a little bit and needs to handle business academically," DiRienzo says. "He's a great kid, but I'm shocked at how well he's stayed grounded. What the hell do you do with the rest of your athletic career after you've shaken hands with LeBron James?"
MUCH OF the way we kindled to Khalil Edney's shot can be traced to the sheer unlikelihood of what happened that March afternoon in White Plains. But perhaps even more rests with the way we were able to experience it, through the Web and its digital kin.
The Newburgh 55-footer that beat Mount Vernon four years earlier survives on YouTube, but only in jerky, floor-level footage with no narration, great for conveying the chaos but not suitable for wide consumption. Last spring's Section I-AA final came blessed with high production values. "It went viral because there were announcers and four camera angles and clocks with lights," says Devaney. "If it had been one guy with a cellphone, it wouldn't have been brought to the ESPY level."
But the New Rochelle--Mount Vernon finish also engaged us because of its almost unimaginable sequence of events. Who knew that 2.9 seconds could accommodate two turnovers, the full transit of 94 feet and a decisive field goal coming from the inbounder? It's as if the ambulance driver performed the coronary bypass two fender benders later.
USA Today book critic Bob Minzesheimer happened to be in the County Center that day. "It was sort of like one of those Chip Hilton novels, as if Clair Bee had written the ending," he says. "Those kinds of things don't happen in serious fiction. They happen in Hollywood."
In this instance, the fates somehow delivered that Hollywood ending. But it's too easy to understate the power a single actor can have over his destiny. As Rasaun Young says, "We drew up the play and we practiced the play and it didn't work. But Khalil didn't quit. Your average kid just stops."
That truth will hang out there for Mount Vernon to contemplate for a long time. "Bob Cimmino is great at teaching life lessons," says Sacco. "And that was a life lesson."
There are lessons too for those of us who do no more than watch. Maybe we should consider the provenance of the other 55 turnovers in a game before we put outsized emphasis on the 56th. Maybe—let those of us in the press take note—it's better to get something right than to get it fast. Maybe we shouldn't be so eager to expect young athletes to specialize in a single sport; perhaps, even in an age when prep schools skim off promising young athletes to be finished and served for D-I delectation, good old-fashioned high schools can still produce the classic multisport hero.
So many of the threads in this story come pulled from the same fabric. As Khalil Edney could tell Devonte Banner from his own experience, Don't wallow in the disappointment of how a junior season ends when you've got a senior season yet to play.
Even as onlookers, we're called to complete our task—to watch until the reel runs out. For that clip isn't merely of a shot. It's of a young man, a team, even a crew of referees, who model something for us all because they played things out. Played them out to the very end.
"I thought, 'Hey, they might pass to the point guard—just jump in front of him and get the ball out of your hands.' That's what I did."
"When people call this my first team, I have to smile," the New Rochelle native says. "I've known these kids all my life."
VINCENT CANNIZZARO, BILLY SACCO, SCOTT MORONEY
"We were 110% sure," Moroney says. "Without even flinching, Billy said, 'I'll go correct it.' And he went over and counted the basket."
Keith Irizarry, Kevin Devaney Jr.
"Edney tosses it.... It's knocked around, and Mount Vernon's gonna win.... Oh, hold on one second!"
To see the video of Edney's last-second shot, and the chaos that ensued, download the tablet version of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, free to subscribers, at SI.com/activate