Greg Gurley misfired on his memorable shot this time.
Let’s cut him some slack, though. More than two decades ago, with the ultimate prize at stake, dude was absolutely money.
Shawnee Mission South dipped into its time capsule Friday evening to celebrate the 25th anniversary season of the Raiders’ undefeated Kansas 6A state championship boys basketball team during halftime of Shawnee Mission West’s 43-41 triumph over SM South.
Gurley, a junior that season, and some of his teammates from that 1989-90 squad were introduced at halftime. The ceremony featured players and coaches running onto the court through a human tunnel of students and cheerleaders.
What followed was a reenactment of Gurley attempting a 25-foot three-point basket he buried from the left side of the arc with 2 seconds left on March 10, 1990 at Emporia State University’s White Auditorium to rally SM South past Wichita South 45-43.
Although Gurley’s shot caromed off of the rim this time, he still gets a kick out of just how much the legend has evolved through the years about that shot he executed to perfection when it counted the most.
“Like the fish you catch, it seems like the length of that shot has grown bigger and bigger every year,” said Gurley, who drilled a second try at it Friday. “It’s gone from 25 feet to 75 feet.”
Before he went on to play at KU, Gurley, Kevin Rabbitt and 6-10 Dan Augulis were cornerstones of a SM South team that became the first boys basketball program in the Shawnee Mission School District to win a state title since Shawnee Mission High (it eventually was called SM North) had accomplished the feat in 1953.
Paul Sexton, 84, coached SM South in that 24-0 season. He recalls not sleeping much sometimes that season, but it wasn’t because he was awake thinking about opponents.
“We’d get calls at 2 in the morning from (college) coaches after their games on the West Coast, wanting to see about some of our kids,” Sexton said.
If anything, this group was tight. Whether they were working out together in summertime or eating at their favorite Taco Via location, the Raiders meshed.
“We were a team in the true sense of the word,” Rabbitt said. “We knew our roles, and people put the team ahead of themselves. We never really had any doubts whether we’d win or not.”
The Raiders’ run to glory was no comfort cruise. They edged SM East 60-57 in their opener. A key moment happened later in the season when SM South overcame an eight-point deficit and topped Leavenworth 64-63. SM South’s Brian Merchant, left open when Gurley was double-teamed, nailed a three-pointer with 46 seconds left for the win.
SM South was tested more than ever just prior to state. Player Paul Petrehn’s father died just before the event.
“We already were a close team,” said Matt Vaupell, a junior on the roster, “and that moment was even more unifying for us as we moved forward.”
The Raiders won their three games at state by a combined eight points. In the semifinals, Rabbitt’s free throw with 1 second left in regulation forced overtime in SM South’s 61-57 victory over Wichita Heights. In the finals, the Raiders trailed by one after future KU standout Steve Woodberry hit a basket with just over 10 seconds remaining. That set the stage for a wild finish.
“We had a timeout, but I didn’t want to call it,” Sexton said. “We had talented, smart, honor roll kids. I just figured they were smart enough, played enough ball, to get it down there and get it in.”
As the clock was ticking away, SM South inbounded, hurriedly threw three passes, the last coming as Rabbitt connected with Gurley, who launched the dagger from an area that was familiar from his younger driveway-hoop days, when he pretended to be his favorite player, Magic Johnson. Gurley certainly provided a dose of magic.
“I’d shot that shot a million times,” said Gurley, whose cousin was teammate Jay Ruf. “It was kind of routine.”
His winning shot triggered a court storming, which upset Kansas State High School Activities Association executive director Nelson Hartman enough that he canceled the trophy presentation. In April, SM South got that trophy.
Ultimately, no time lapse could spoil something so special.
“What do you say after that?” said Rod Savage, a member of that legendary SM South team. “That season was a great accomplishment. So much went into it. It gave us a lifelong memory we’ll never forget.”