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25 years later: Send it in, Jerome!

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MEMORIES OF ‘THE DUNK'

“The thing you've got to remember was the atmosphere was so great in the Field House because, first of all, it was Big Monday. That was the college basketball game on TV. There weren't five other channels with games. The whole nation was watching, so there was a buzz. What actually happened so far exceeded expectations that, at first, there was a split second of you-can't-believe-what-you-just-saw to a total eruption of cheers. We stayed out there. As ball boys, our job was to sweep the lane during timeouts. So we went down there with brooms, thinking it was our job to clean it up. I grabbed a couple pieces as souvenirs. I didn't think much of it at first, but people were grabbing handfuls so I thought it might be something worth keeping. I still have a piece. It was in the basement of my parents' house. You remember the Slam Dunk Club they had back in those days? Larry Rubin's Specialty Clothing sponsored it. If you donated to it, you got a mug and I kept it in there.” — Rob Lovett, a 13-year-old ball boy at the time

“I remember like it was yesterday. You could see him flying in, coming right at us. He caught the pass from Sean, took one step and threw it down. You could see he was coming in with authority, but he had it in one hand. You didn't realize that the backboard was going to shatter. I would think it would take more force than that, but he must have hit it perfectly. Sam Clancy, who was a lot bigger than Jerome, I could've seen him shattering it with two hands. It was probably the greatest thing I've witnessed like that. It was unbelievable. You don't realize how magnificent the dunk was until you see it over and over again on the highlight reels.” — Kim Tirik, a former Pitt women's basketball player who was sitting four rows behind the basket

“I was in that corner. We were ranked real high that year and that night of the Providence game, it was a big crowd because once they got into the Big East they were always selling out. For some reason, the crowd wasn't really into it until Jerome shattered that backboard. Then they went crazy. That was something that no one expected. It came out of nowhere. You had to see it in person. It took a good 45 minutes to replace that basket. The glass shattered, and some of it came into my corner. It was pretty wild.” — Mark Mikulich, an usher at Pitt basketball games for 29 years

“I was only a sophomore at the time, just a student manager for the football team, but I was sitting at the other end near some administrators. That's the first time I'd ever seen that happen, somebody shatter a backboard. I guess they weren't prepared for something like that to happen. They asked me to go help Greg Doss from the maintenance crew get the replacement basket. It was where the student section bleachers pulled out, so we pushed the hoop back out from under the stands and helped sweep the glass off the floor. It was pretty crazy.” — Tim “Ox” Enright, Pitt football equipment manager

“I'm sitting on the end of the bench and I look up and he's slamming the ball. The next thing I know, I said to myself, ‘He broke the (expletive) backboard.' Then I hear coach Evans hollering, ‘Mouse! Where's Mouse?' I'm thinking, ‘Does he think I'm going to fix that?' I took Jerome's shirt and threw it in the dryer to get the glass out. Everywhere we went that season, they said, ‘You're the team with the dude who broke the basket.'” — Walter “Mouse” McCullough, Pitt's equipment manager at Fitzgerald Field House from 1973-1994

Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 10:52 p.m.
 

As inevitable as watching Jerome Lane elevate for the tomahawk dunk that ripped off the rim and shattered the backboard at Fitzgerald Field House is the call that perfectly captured the monumental moment.

Twenty five years later, college basketball analyst Bill Raftery remains amazed at how his emphatic “Send it in, Jerome!” shout following the thunderous dunk is forever linked with the most famous play in Pitt basketball history and one that ranks among ESPN's greatest highlights.

“It was an innocent fast break that Sean Miller screwed up by making the right decision,” Raftery said. “It was one of those goofy things that happens in a game, and I was fortunate enough to be there. There was so many great things announcing games, but this thing has had more legs than anything I've ever seen. It's extraordinary.”

Lane's backboard-breaking dunk against Providence Jan. 25, 1988, remains the most prominent play in a season that put the Panthers on the college basketball map. They finished 24-7, rising as high as No. 2 in the national rankings and won the Big East Conference regular-season championship before their magical season was spoiled by Barry Goheen's buzzer-beating heave as Vanderbilt pulled a second-round upset in the NCAA Tournament.

Twenty-five years later, the dunk endures.

Lane is believed to be the first player to shatter a backboard following the introduction of the breakaway rim. That he did so in such a powerful display before a live national television audience – it was ESPN's Big Monday game – only made it more memorable.

Following a steal, Miller, the freshman point guard, led the three-on-two fastbreak with shooting guard Jason Matthews to his left and Lane on his right. Miller drew a defender near the top of the key and dished to the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Lane.

A power forward who led the nation at 13.5 rebounds a game the previous season, Lane took one step, elevated and cocked his right arm back. He slammed the ball, ripping the rim from the glass.

“I didn't realize anything until I looked at Demetreus (Gore),” Lane told ESPN.com in 2011. “His mouth was open. Then I saw glass on the floor. It came down like snow.”

At first, there was a sense of shock. Everyone was in disbelief, wondering if their eyes were deceiving them.

“Everyone paused for, like, five seconds because no one understood what had just happened,” Matthews said. “I was trying to get away from the glass coming down because I was under the basket. It was all over the floor. He hit it at the right place, right time and with the right force.”

Darelle Porter, then a freshman guard, was walking to the scorer's table to check into the game when assistant coach John Calipari shouted to him. Porter turned around, hearing the commotion but not witnessing it.

“I saw the rim torn away from the glass backboard,” Porter said. “I told ‘Rome' as we were walking to the locker room that somebody probably shot the backboard with a BB gun at the same time he dunked it.”

It was still early in the first half when the game was stopped. To the delight of the cameras and the crowd, Roc, the Panther mascot, ran around the gym with the wrecked rim. As the glass was swept from the floor, a replacement basket was brought out from below the bleachers.

Raftery recalls Big East play-by-play man Mike Gorman interviewing Don Nelson, scouting for the Golden State Warriors, during the 32-minute delay while the Little Panthers dribblers performed.

Miller, now the head coach at the University of Arizona, treats The Dunk as a claim to fame and a validation of his college career to his players – even if he does take some liberties with it.

“In my house,” Miller said during his WPIAL Hall of Fame induction last year, “it's known as The Pass.”

Matthews laughs at that.

“I don't even know if Sean's sons are buying into that,” Matthews said of Miller's wife and kids. “Everyone else knows it as The Dunk.”

Porter is impressed that the dunk – and Raftery's call – resonates 25 years later, thanks to ESPN highlights and YouTube.

“People remember you by your memorable plays,” Porter said. “He's remembered by that play and Bill Raftery saying, ‘Send it in, Jerome!' There weren't that many channels, so the Big East had the best package. We were on TV every week, so people knew your whole roster, knew your team. Everywhere you go, they remembered the dunk.”

What Raftery remembers is the originality of The Dunk, marking the first time he and almost everyone else at Fitzgerald Field House had witnessed someone shatter a backboard in person.

“It was something either you couldn't do or haven't seen it before first-hand,” Raftery said. “Later, I saw Shaq take the glass and backboard down at the Meadowlands. It wasn't as impressive. I was like, ‘I've seen this before. Big deal.'”

 

 

 
 


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