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NCAA PREVIEW | NCAA TOURNAMENT / THE BIG DANCE

Still Going End to End

Edney's heart and hustle have helped make him one of the most popular players in Europe.

March 14, 2005|Greg Abel | Special to The Times

ROME — Ten years ago this month, Tyus Edney sprinted from one end of a basketball court to the other, flew in the air and banked in a game-winning shot. His heroics saved a season, inspired a championship and created one of the most electric and enduring memories in NCAA tournament history.

Not bad for 4.8 seconds of work.

On the eve of the 2005 NCAA men's basketball tournament, Edney's dash to beat Missouri and rescue UCLA in a second-round game in 1995 holds up as one of the quintessential "shining moments" of all time.

"It doesn't seem like 10 years ago, it seems like yesterday when you think about it," Edney said.

But it has been a decade since the team featuring Edney, Ed and Charles O'Bannon, Toby Bailey, George Zidek, J.R. Henderson and Cameron Dollar gave UCLA its only national championship since the John Wooden era. Edney, now 32 and playing for Lottomatica Roma in the Italian League, still looks as if he could pass for a sophomore -- OK, maybe a senior -- on the current edition of the Bruins.

But youthful appearance aside, the 5-foot-10 point guard has grown up to become a man of the world with an international basketball resume that includes multiple championships, all-star teams and most-valuable-player awards in the Italian League and EuroLeague, which brings together the best teams on the continent. After a couple of trips back and forth between the NBA and Europe, Edney has settled comfortably into his role as one of the most popular and successful U.S. players overseas.

"Tyus is huge in Europe," said Ed O'Bannon, who retired this year from professional basketball after playing the previous three seasons in Poland. "His style, his size, the fact that his teams always win; he's somewhat of a novelty, a celebrity. When my teammates overseas found out that I played with him, it would be like someone in the States finding out that you played with Michael Jordan."

After four years in Italy, Edney speaks fluent Italian and is engaged to be married to his Italian-Brazilian fiancee, Ainoa, with whom he has a 1-year-old son, Tyus Jr. The couple and their child live in a spacious apartment in central Rome with a balcony that overlooks the famous dome of St. Peter's.

Sure, he sometimes misses the perks and status of the NBA, his family and friends back home and the familiarity of life in the U.S., but Edney has embraced his Italian lifestyle with no regrets.

"I like it here," Edney said. "Over here, I play more and it's a great atmosphere. I could have been a guy who bounced around in the NBA until maybe I stuck somewhere, but I didn't like the uncertainty."

Edney's NBA career began with great promise. A second-round draft pick by the Sacramento Kings in 1995, he started 60 games as a rookie and averaged 10.8 points and 6.1 assists, helping Sacramento make its first playoff appearance in nine years. But in his second season, he lost his starting spot and his minutes were reduced. He landed in Boston in Year 3 and played in 52 games, averaging 12 minutes and 5.3 points.

When NBA owners locked out the players in 1998, Edney decided to give overseas basketball a shot. He joined former UCLA teammate Zidek on a Lithuanian team, BC Zalgiris Kaunus. Edney's quickness and confident playmaking made him an instant success. The team won the 1999 EuroLeague championship, Europe's most prominent title, and an overseas star was born.

The next season, Benetton Basket Treviso picked him up, and Edney became an Italian League fan favorite.

"The thing that sets him apart is his heart," said Donn Nelson, player personnel director for the Dallas Mavericks, and a consultant for the Lithuanian national team. "Whatever team he plays for, whether it's UCLA, or Zalgiris, or Benetton Treviso -- that team is in the running for a championship."

The NBA and Edney gave each other one more shot in 2000-01, when he signed with the Indiana Pacers. His line for the season: 24 games, zero starts, 4.4 points a game. He returned to Treviso the next season and didn't look back. For the first time in his professional career, he found stability as Treviso's point guard and unquestioned leader.

With Edney running the show, Treviso won consecutive Italian League championships and made the EuroLeague Final Four in 2002 and 2003. Current Phoenix Sun Coach Mike D'Antoni coached Treviso and Edney in 2001-02; the team went 28-8.

Charles O'Bannon, who had a short-lived NBA career with the Detroit Pistons and now plays in Japan, joined the team late in the season. The team also featured former Michigan State star Charlie Bell and future NBA draft picks Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Bostjan Nachbar.

"That was the best year," Edney said. "It was run and gun."

Said D'Antoni: "That game-winning drive that Tyus had in the NCAA tournament? That's not unusual for him. After getting to know him and watching him play, Tyus has an innate ability to rise to the occasion in big moments."

Thinking for a moment, D'Antoni added: "Did he tell you about the shot against Tel Aviv?"

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