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March 4, 2012
One of the most important events in Wake Forest basketball history went almost entirely unseen.
For Randolph Childress, the equal and opposite precursor to 82-80 and March of 1995 was a knee injury in a June 1991 pickup game. The torn ligament knocked him out of action for a year but ultimately extended his career beyond its originally presumed expiration date. Had he stayed healthy, he would have been in the NBA in March of 1995 rather than putting on one of the greatest performances in ACC Tournament history.
Childress would have been fine, of course, but Wake would probably be one banner and untold memories short.
And so Childress had a fifth year of eligibility, and it would coincide with the maturation of a former swimmer named Tim Duncan, who had arrived in the fall of 1993 to negligible attention but was on his way to stardom. Together, the two formed an outside-inside combination that put the Demon Deacons into the mix of what became one of the greatest seasons in ACC history.
Wake, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia all tied for first at 12-4 in regular-season conference play, and the ACC Tournament pared the field to the Tar Heels and Deacons for the championship. Seven individuals - four Tar Heels, three Deacs - ultimately played in the NBA. They put on an amazing show in the Greensboro Coliseum.
Childress, who had dropped 40 points on Duke in the quarterfinals and 30 more on Virginia in the semis, wasn't done. His 37-point showing against UNC included nine 3-pointers and the decisive shot. With the clock ticking under 10 seconds left in overtime, he dribbled twice to get a step on the Tar Heels' Jeff McInnis, pulled up at the foul-line extended and connected to give his team an 82-80 win and take his three-day total to a tournament-record 107 points.
That performance earned him the Everett Case Award as the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player and second-team All-America honors by both the Associated Press and the NABC. Eight years later, in 2003, he would be voted one of the ACC's 50 best players for its first fifty years, with a spot on the Atlantic Coast Conference's prestigious 50th Anniversary Basketball Team.
"I congratulate him," UNC coach Dean Smith said after the senior's final ACC game. "I'm glad he's gone."
Childress finished with 2,208 points, a figure still good for second in Wake history and 18th on the ACC chart.
A long professional career followed, but its fame was limited by another series of injuries. It included two teams in the NBA, seven in Italy, two in Turkey, two more in France and one in Australia.
"I dream," he said, "but under no circumstances did I think I'd play that long. It took me around the world, and for that, I'm grateful."
Childress clearly has more stories to tell than the average pro player, but around the Wake campus, to which he has returned as a special assistant to athletics director Ron Wellman, they always want to talk about that afternoon 17 years ago. About the last shot. About the maneuver in the first half in which he faked McInnis to the ground with a crossover move, then subtly gestured at his opponent to get up before making another shot from the left wing.
"Those were obviously great times and special moments," Childress said. "There are certain things I remember, but certain other times are a blur. I try not to focus on it too much and to focus on what I'm doing now."
That began in August, when Wellman hired him as a general-assignment administrator whose duties will focus heavily on mentoring student-athletes. Curiously, three hours after he accepted the gig, the phone rang. Another European team wanted him to come back.
This time, there were no detours.
"When this opportunity presented itself," he said, "there was nothing that could get me to change my mind."