Scott Cherry has the magic touch.
Wherever he goes, big things happen, usually in dramatic fashion.
Saratoga Catholic, North Carolina, George Mason, Western Kentucky.
The biggest shot of the NCAA tournament so far was delivered by the Hilltoppers’ Ty Rogers last Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., to upset Drake, 101-99, in overtime.
Cherry, a 36-year-old Ballston Spa native who starred for Spa Catholic, was hired by Western Kentucky’s Darrin Horn just in time to be a part of that. He’s in his first season as an assistant at WKU, and he said Rogers’ shot took him back to his high school days, when he hit a jumper with two seconds left to edge Watervliet, 66-65, in the 1989 Section II Class CC championship game.
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“Ty didn’t have to use glass, though,” said a beaming Cherry in the Hilltoppers’ locker room on Sunday after 12th-seeded WKU beat San Diego to reach the Sweet 16. They’ll play No. 1 UCLA at 9:40 p.m. on Thursday.
“This might sound funny, but when I saw it leave his hand, I felt like it had a good chance.”
As the clock wound down at the Glens Falls Civic Center in 1989, Cherry launched one from around the foul line, and it banked off the glass and in.
Andre Cook’s desperation heave from six feet behind the halfcourt stripe for Watervliet bounced off the rim.
“We were down, and I was fortunate to get a little head of steam, and be able to get it up on the backboard, and fortunately, it went in for us,” Cherry said. “I was surprised, two years ago, after George Mason made it to the Final Four, I got an e-mail from Andre Cook. He said, ‘You killed me. You crushed my heart.’ ”
On Friday, Rogers hit his shot from about 27 feet on the right wing after Tyrone Brazelton, who had a career-high 33 points, dribbled three-quarters of the way down court, spun to his right and kicked it to Rogers.
Three defenders flew at Rogers, but his shot was all net. The play started at the far baseline with 5.9 seconds left, and it would have been understandable if Brazelton had tried to hoist one himself, considering how hot his shooting had been.
Instead, he made a poised, unselfish pass to a teammate who had just eight points in the game until then.
“It’s kind of the trademark of our team, the unselfishness,” Cherry said. “If Tyrone got the opportunity to get a good look at the basket, I’m sure he would’ve taken it because he’s a scorer. If he could get it to somebody else who’s open, he’d do it. That’s the kind of kids we have. They’re not really in for personal glory, they’re in for each other and for their teammates.”
It might have been easy for Rogers to get a swelled head after his game-winner, especially after it was highlighted over and over on TV, but that didn’t happen.
Against San Diego on Sunday, Rogers covered the Toreros’ Brandon Johnson, and took just three shots in 31 minutes.
“He came out today, and I don’t think you could tell that he was the hero the other day,” Cherry said. “It wasn’t like he was trying to hunt his shot and get more shots. He guarded the best player on the other team, he scrapped, he boxed out, he rebounded, he made the extra pass, took the open shot when he had it. You can’t have a team of superstars, you have to have those guys who you would tell them to run into that wall, and he would do it.”
Cherry is Horn’s recruiting coordinator, runs the offense during practice and works with the guards. He spent three seasons at George Mason, left for one year with Tennessee Tech, then came back to George Mason and head coach Jim Larranaga.
Again, his timing was perfect, as the Patriots made it to the Final Four two years ago, defeating two of the 2005 Final Four teams and two previous national champions.
As an 11 seed, George Mason beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and No. 1 Connecticut before losing to eventual national champion Florida in the national semifinals.
He has also coached high school ball and spent a season as an assistant with the Middle Tennessee State women’s program.
“I’ve been to some different places, but I’ve been fortunate to work for some great coaches and great guys who have given me the opportunity to do what I love to do, which is coach and teach and hopefully, share some of the experiences that I’ve been through as a player, and now as a coach,” Cherry said.
The experiences also include a 1993 national championship at North Carolina, where Cherry was a little-used bench player for four years, but shows up in the boxscore for the Tar Heels’ famous 77-71 victory over Michigan for the national championship.
That was the phantom timeout game featuring the Wolverines’ Fab Five, including Chris Webber, who called the timeout when Michigan had none, and was whistled for a technical foul. Donald Williams made the free throws as North Carolina held on to win.
Of course, no matter what WKU is
doing, Cherry is keeping a close eye on the Tar Heels’ fortunes.
“I enjoyed that win yesterday [Saturday] for West Virginia [over Duke], as well,” he said with a laugh. “Once you’re part of the program, you can never cut yourself off from it.”
Cherry, who used to help park cars for his father’s valet service at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs, doesn’t get many opportunites to get back home. His ultimate goal is a head coaching job, but for now, it doesn’t get much better than this.
“I just feel so happy for coach Horn, because he’s done everything the right way, and when you do that and have success, you just feel for the guys that do it that way,” Cherry said. “I’m not saying everybody doesn’t, but when you’re a part of something like this and your kids do what you ask them to do and study and go to class and practice hard every day, it makes it even more rewarding.”
Cherry, who met his wife, Cortney, while in Tennessee, said this while their 2-year-old son, Brody, dribbled a little commemorative basketball with the WKU players in the adjoining locker room.
Maybe there’s magic in those little fingers, too.
“He’s got his ball in there, he’s dribbling. Bought a Final Four basketball,” Cherry said. “So I’m hoping maybe if we string a couple more together, we might have another trip to the Final Four, but we’ve got a tough road ahead of us. There’s some really good teams, and specifically UCLA first.”