(photo: Ole Miss Athletics)
Jon Wiener 1 ON 1 with Jason Flanigan
The Bryce Drew shot. The Notre Dame winner. And how the NCAA tournament stays with you.
Ole Miss all-time winningest PG Jason Flanigan remembers March Madness
You and (Jason) Harrison have been there 10 years at Holmes and have won a bunch. Y’all had such a great run together at Ole Miss – what’s it like to have him on your staff now?
Me and coach (Harrison) have been able to have a lot of success here, and it’s special to have someone you played with coaching with you. We know each other so well there’s complete trust and faith in what we do and it’s been a big key for us. We talk so much basketball on the court and of course, we go back to the glory days and our time at Ole Miss and the NCAAs.
Of course, everyone remembers the 2001 NCAA run and (Harrison’s) Notre Dame shot. You also played as a freshman on the 1998 team that lost to Bryce Drew in the first round. But before that: I mean that’s a loaded group you had with guys like Ansu Sesay, Keith Carter, Joezon Darby, etc.
It was an intense group. We had battles in practice every day. Ansu was such a great player, All American…then you had Keith and Joezon two great shooters on each side. They had won the West the year before I got there. Coming to campus for the first time on a visit and watching a scrimmage session, I was like “This is where I want to be. That’s the kind of environment I want to play in.”
So you win the West again and draw Valpo in the first round. Looking back, tell me honestly, were you overlooking Valparaiso? Did you think they could beat you and know how good they were?
I remember we there on Selection Sunday and they said we’re playing Valparaiso and I didn’t even know who that was. Then we had Rhode Island with Lamar Odom or Paul Pierce and Kansas in our bracket. And so we prepared and watched film for Valparaiso, knew they were physical and could shoot with Bryce Drew, but yeah, I was cocky and looking ahead. It wasn’t so much Valpo as the team that we had and how much I believed in us. We all believed in each other and coach (Rob) Evans — that’s what stands out from those teams, the belief we had.
At what point did you guys know, ‘hey this going to be a game’?
We knew right away. It was a dogfight from the get-go. We didn’t shoot the ball very well and weren’t playing that great, but they were scrapping and hitting shots and it was just a back and forth game. Then Bryce did what he did to me….hit the shot and sent us home. I was actually guarding him on the play.
(on the play)
They had the big guy at the center of the court and we had two guys guarding him for the inbound but they kinda mistimed their jump. I was supposed to be guarding Bryce and you go back and watch it and I took my eyes off him for a half second, and he got behind me. Just a freshman mistake. Got caught sleeping. It’s a play…I still think about it all the time. I can still hear coach Evans saying “don’t let Bryce get behind you!” (laughs)….but it was just one of those things.
So it’s safe to say that play has stayed with you.
Oh yeah. Especially when I’m coaching, in late game situations, it’ll be there. That’s why I always remind my kids, “pay attention to the details,” because you can’t lose your focus even for a split second in situations like that. Anything can happen. Yeah I still get asked and teased about it all the time. Rahim (Lockhart) put the video in a tweet for my birthday the other day…
You guys took a step back your junior year but then the Provine Posse comes to campus. What did that group coming do for the team?
I mean these guys…Justin Reed, that’s just a warrior. Aaron Harper that could shoot the cover off of it, and Dave Sanders who could make plays and take off from the free-throw line. It just took our team to a whole other level, adding those three guys that were a big piece to that run and how we won all those games, my senior year.
And you guys go to the NCAAs and get Iona in the first round; kind of a similar deal. You’re a three seed, against a mid-major that really no one knows about. How different was your mindset then, knowing what had happened your freshman year with Valpo?
We were just trying to get past round one, man. I talked to the younger guys about this situation because we had lost my freshman year in a similar situation. And not knowing much about Iona, but we were ready. We had guys off the bench that stepped up. One thing about that team, my senior year, Justin Reed and Rahim Lockhart, they were going to score, but that third guy was always different.
Then you play the thriller with Notre Dame. What was that game like?
Notre Dame was pretty successful that year. They had Troy Murphy and they were very talented. But we went in that game and played well together, didn’t make a whole lot of shots, but the one shot that Jason Harrison made, it put us over the hump and got the win. Then we came back down and got a stop. But that was so big for our program because Ole Miss had never been to the Sweet Sixteen.
So you had both sides of it. You got buried by Valpo on a game-winner your freshman year, then your buddy, the little man Jason Harrison knocks it down to beat Notre Dame. That had to be….
Probably the biggest shot in Ole Miss History, the little man hit. When we got back from Kansas City, the airport was packed. I will never forget that. The airport was packed, great fan support. And then we got ready for Arizona. And Arizona was probably the most talented team in the tournament.
How good were they? I mean they were loaded.
They were loaded; they had pros on the team, NBA pros (led by Gilbert Arenas & Richard Jefferson). They were loaded. We were up at halftime, but then the second half, it kind of got out of control a little bit. We ended up losing, I’m not sure by how many, but we ended up losing. First half they struggled, we guarded them, but the second half, we gave up some offensive rebounds, and they kind of got going on offense a little bit.
I almost forgot in the Notre Dame game, Harrison hit the three and then you had to go ice it at the line. So what’s going through your mind when you’re standing there at the free throw line in the NCAA tournament with a chance to get to the Sweet Sixteen?
All you’re thinking about is making the shot. Concentrate on the front of the rim, make sure you shoot the same way, and just don’t ever take the focus anywhere else. And just make the shot. And I was able to make one out of two; I think I missed the first one, made the second one. So it put us up four, and we were able to come home with the W.
Did it ever cross your mind what had happened 3 years earlier with Sesay at the line, do you remember?
No, I didn’t think about that. But yeah, (laughs)…it could have happened again if I would’ve missed both of them.
So looking back on it, you’ve coached and you’ve done it at the JUCO level obviously, but what’s really the key in terms of the March Madness and handling it all and having success there?
Well, you’ve just got to be playing well at the right time. You’ve got to have some tough kids, some kids that can deal with adversity. You’ve gotta have some guys that can go get a bucket, because the coaching staff on the other team, they’re going to go over most of the plays that you run; so they’re going to be able to stop you sometimes, especially when the clock is running down. But you’ve got to have a team that’s willing to fight and play defense.
You’re part of the winningest class in Ole Miss history. Rahim and those guys, you won a bunch. What’s the impact of your class on Ole Miss basketball and being a part of that whole deal, those tournaments and that group?
Yeah, I’ve thought about Ansu Sesay, Anthony Boone, Keith Carter, they got the program going again. We had it rolling for a few years with Coach Barnes. It kind of fell off a little bit, and then A.K came in and he got it rolling a little bit where we won 20 something games a year. That says a lot about a coach. Everything didn’t work out in his favor all the time, but the man won some games while he was at Ole Miss. So I think Kermit Davis is just going to take it to another level. I think he’s a great coach, Xs and Os guy, and I think he has great discipline. So we’ll be able to get some of the talented kids in the country, with the facilities and things like that, but it’s just a matter of time before Ole Miss gets back to going to the Sweet Sixteen.