Twenty-five years ago, Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney, Toby Bailey and the rest of the Bruins suited up for the 1995 national championship game in Seattle.
Friday, they’ll be together again – albeit, not in person.
The teammates have crossed paths here and there in the decades since they secured UCLA men’s basketball’s 11th title in an 89-78 victory over Arkansas on April 3, 1995, but Edney said almost the entire team will be hopping online to reminisce together Friday night.
“We’re all going to be getting on one of these Zoom calls and doing a 25-year reunion celebration thing, so I know that will be fun,” Edney said. “It was (Bailey’s) idea, he reached out to us a couple days ago. And then he set it all up and everybody responded.”
Bailey said he had to pull out all the stops to get everyone on the same page for the meeting, using email, text, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to get in touch with former teammates, managers and coaches from Los Angeles to Japan to Croatia.
“I’ve been getting a lot of Zoom meetings for work and family,” Bailey said. “When people started calling and reminding me that it was the reunion (Friday), I figured it’d be great to get the guys together and see what everybody’s up to.”
The Bruins have yet to win a title in the quarter-century since Edney and O’Bannon left, making the 1995 tournament run the last time UCLA stood alone atop the college basketball world. Several moments of that campaign have been immortalized, such as Edney’s late-game heroics against Missouri in the second round.
With 4.8 seconds left on the clock, coach Jim Harrick called a timeout with his team down 74-73. Instead of drawing up a play for their All-American and leading scorer O’Bannon, Harrick called Edney’s number.
“It was a tough memory at first – we were struggling, Missouri had a really good team, so they were basically outplaying us,” Edney said. “Most of the time, we looked to (O’Bannon) … to bail us out. This time, coach said, ‘I want you to shoot the ball – do you understand what I’m telling you?'”
Edney took the ball the length of the court and hit the teardrop layup in traffic as the final buzzer sounded, keeping the Bruins alive en route to an eventual Final Four trip. In a double-digit victory over Oklahoma State in the national semifinals, however, Edney hurt his wrist and his status for the championship game was up in the air.
“Going into the championship, I started panicking because that night and the next morning was a nightmare,” Edney said. “I kind of begged (Harrick), ‘Please coach, let me see if I can do it.’ But it was just too bad, so that was tough to sit out most of the game. He let me start, but I was a liability, … so I became a cheerleader.”
Not every cheerleader gets to hold the trophy at the end of the game, but Edney did. In his absence, Cameron Dollar took over at point and ran the offense well enough to win the game.
Dollar – who averaged just 3.4 points and 3.1 assists per game during the 1994-1995 season – played 36 minutes in Edney’s place, leading the team with eight assists and four steals.
The pair of point guards only totaled six points in the game, but O’Bannon and Bailey more than made up for that.
The two combined for 56 points and 26 rebounds, with O’Bannon never subbing out the entire game. O’Bannon’s championship-winning 30-piece capped off his final season with UCLA, a season in which he averaged 20.4 points and won the John R. Wooden Award, Pac-10 co-Player of the Year and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award.
Then-freshman Bailey had scored just two points in the game prior against Oklahoma State, but he said he knew he would bounce back when the title game came around.
“I knew I was going to have a good game because of the style of play,” Bailey said. “Arkansas, they were known for playing fast-paced – 40 Minutes of Hell and pressing the entire time – so I knew that would be conducive to the way I played. I was excited for it.”
There won’t be a men’s basketball champion crowned in 2020 now that the NCAA has canceled all winter championships because of the coronavirus outbreak, meaning redshirt seniors Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski won’t get the chance to match the 1995 team’s accomplishments.
“Since I’ve been an 18-year-old kid, I’ve known March Madness is coming around, I get that feeling, I get excited, you never know what’s going to happen,” Bailey said. “To not have that this year, I really feel for the kids because I know how special it was to us.”
Edney, who was an assistant coach for UCLA from 2017 to 2019, said he’s tried reaching out to some of the veterans on the team to try to talk them through these tough times.
“A couple of the seniors, I’m trying to help out, see what their next move is and see if there’s anything I can do,” Edney said. “The guys coming back, obviously they have time, but the seniors are the ones getting the bad end of the stick.”
Despite ending the season as a projected play-in No. 11 seed in ESPN’s bracketology, UCLA has snuck its way into some outlets’ early top 25 rankings for 2020-2021.
Edney wouldn’t take a hard stance on whether or not the 1995 team could beat the current iteration of the Bruins, but he did express a sliver of confidence in his former teammates.
“Oh, you’re trying to cause some controversy,” Edney said, laughing. “I don’t know, I think we would have done alright.”