The ritual has been the same for Concordia (Calif.) University coach Ken Ammann before every game since that fateful February day.
As his team takes the court for pregame warm-ups, Ammann carefully unfolds the green and white Concordia jersey emblazoned with the No. 20 and places it over his chair.
It’s the No. 20 that belonged to former Concordia guard Keith Lawrence. The Keith Lawrence who hit one of the most memorable shots in NAIA tournament history.
And the Keith Lawrence who was gunned down on Super Bowl Sunday night by former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner.
“I’ve been reminding myself to coach like Keith played,” said Ammann, whose defending NAIA champion Eagles lost in the second round of this year’s tournament.
“He was the most poised guy we ever had, and whenever I get that nervous feeling in my gut, I remind myself to be like Keith.”
Lawrence, 27, and his fiancée, Monica Quan, 28, a former point guard for the Concordia women’s program and an assistant women’s coach at Cal State Fullerton, were shot to death by Dorner on Feb. 3. Dorner had been fired by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009 for making false statements against another officer, and he was later represented by Quan’s father in front of a tribunal that ruled against Dorner at the time of his dismissal.
Dorner initially targeted Quan and Lawrence, and murdered them with multiple gunshots while they were in their car outside their condominium in Irvine, Calif. Dorner killed two more people and wounded three others in a rampage that led to the largest manhunt in Los Angeles Police Department history and ended with Dorner’s suicide during a standoff on Feb. 12 at a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains.
The crimes rocked Concordia University, a private Christian school of 2,400 students in Irvine.
“They were Concordia people,” Ammann said. “She played and coached here. And they met here and fell in love here.”
An overflow crowd of more than 2,300 mourners packed Concordia’s CU Arena for an emotional four-hour, 15-minute dual funeral service for Lawrence and Quan that included video tributes as well as eulogies.
“I don’t think anyone moved out of their seats,” Concordia associate athletic director Greg Dinneen said. “It was an outpouring of love. It was sad and moving. We lost two great people.”
While Quan went into coaching, Lawrence became a campus security officer at the University of Southern California.
“I had just seen Keith a couple of weeks before that at a women’s basketball game between USC and Arizona State,” Dinneen said, “and he said, ‘Could you believe I’m getting overtime to do a women’s basketball game?’
“He was so humble and quiet and unassuming, but when you put him in a basketball uniform, he’s a tiger and would do whatever it took and played his heart out.”
Especially on the night of March 19, 2007.
Concordia and top-seeded and undefeated Robert Morris (Ill.) were tied 79-79 after regulation, and Eagles guard Terrence Worthy made buzzer-beaters that sent the NAIA semifinals game into second and third overtimes.
Concordia trailed 111-108 with 2.8 seconds left in the third overtime when Lawrence rose to take a 25-foot three-pointer. With defender Steve Strong smothering Lawrence, he double-pumped, adjusted in midair and let go of the shot before his feet touched the floor.
Concordia would win 124-119 in four overtimes, and the crowd of 3,675 at Municipal Auditorium gave both teams a rousing, standing ovation when the second-longest and highest-scoring game in tournament history ended. The Star ranked the game No. 12 in its Top 75 NAIA Moments that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the tournament last year.
ESPN led “SportsCenter” with The Shot. Over and over again.
“When I pulled up for the three, he was in my face,” Lawrence, then a junior, said after the game. “I knew I might have had to do something awkward, which I ended up trying to do.”
The exhausted Eagles lost the championship game to Oklahoma City the next night, but Lawrence’s shot, which was christened “Special K” by his teammates, would forever be part of Concordia and NAIA lore.
“That was the greatest NAIA game ever played,” Ammaan said, “and his shot was the greatest shot in that tournament’s 75-year history.”
A year later, when the Eagles returned to the NAIA tournament, The Star asked Lawrence to replicate the double-pump release shot from the exact spot on the floor. Each attempt missed the mark.
“It’s a difficult shot,” he said. “A good week or two after we got home, everyone said, ‘See if you could make it again.’ I’ve tried, but I haven’t made it again.
“It’s different when you’re trying to just do it for fun than when you have someone on top of you. I can always get the shot off, make the same move, but not make the shot.”
After the funeral services for Lawrence and Quan, the teams had to get back to basketball. It wasn’t easy.
That’s when Ammann decided to bring Lawrence’s No. 20 to each game, as did women’s coach Jenny Hansen with Quan’s No. 23. Brandon Hucks, who was wearing No. 20 for the men’s team, switched to No. 24.
The Eagles got off to a slow start in the Golden State Athletic Conference and were on the verge of not being able to defend their national championship when Ammann substituted No. 20 jerseys.
“I gave a bunch of them to his family,” Ammann said, “but the one I kept is the one he hit the shot in, that green one ”
From that point on, the Eagles closed the season with six straight wins, including a 112-111 win in double overtime against Arizona Christian in the conference tournament that ensured Concordia’s return to Kansas City to defend its championship. It was just the kind of game Lawrence would have loved playing.
Though the current Concordia players did not know Lawrence, they became familiar with him through what Ammann told them and by watching video of The Shot.
“We’ve seen that shot,” senior forward Alex Rudd said. “It was a big-time shot. He was a big-time player.
“When our team attended the funeral, it was touching to see how he affected so many lives. Coach told us how he played and how he lived his life, and it inspired us to take each day as if it was our last, and how each day counts.”