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Bryce Drew hopes to make more March memories

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Bryce Drew (US Presswire)

LostLettermen.com, the college sports fan site and former player database, regularly contributes to The Dagger. Here's a look at the current whereabouts of NCAA tournament legend Bryce Drew.

Fourteen years after making one of the most famous shots in NCAA tournament history, Valparaiso's Bryce Drew is on the verge of another March miracle: He's one game away from leading his overachieving alma mater back to the Big Dance in his first year as the team's head coach.

The Crusaders were picked to finish fifth in the Horizon League and the chances of an NCAA tournament berth seemed slim before the season. Valpo's last visit to March Madness was in 2004, the team's best player, Brandon Wood, had transferred to Michigan State and it had a rookie head coach whose parents had both recently been diagnosed with cancer.

Drew has overcome all of that, helping the Crusaders overtake Horizon League nemesis Butler, win the regular-season crown and earn a spot in the conference tournament title game. The Crusaders host third-seeded Detroit on Tuesday night with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line.

[Related: Where are they now? NCAA tournament's greatest one-hit wonders]

Drew credits his father Homer, his former coach at Valpo, for helping him become an instant success.

"My dad has given me great advice," Drew said. "When I first got the job, he said, 'Just be yourself.' And I think that was really great advice. I really relied a lot on that this year in certain situations, in things that I might say or might not say - and to just be myself and my own personality."

If Valpo (22-10, 14-4) can defeat Detroit (21-13, 11-7) for the third time in three meetings Tuesday night, Drew will return to the March Madness stage for the first time since the play known at his alma mater as simply "The Shot."

With the 13th-seeded Crusaders trailing by two and 2.5 seconds left in their first-round game of the 1998 NCAA tournament, Jaime Sykes heaved an inbound pass across midcourt to Bill Jenkins, who immediately tapped it to a running Drew.  The ensuing 3-pointer at the buzzer from Drew gave Valpo a 70-69 victory and helped the Crusaders eventually reach their first-ever Sweet 16.

College hoops fans surely remember the shot, from Drew's spontaneous belly-flop on the hardwood that served as the base for his teammates' celebratory dog pile, to the indelible image of father and son hugging afterward.

"A lot of people say, 'Aren't you tired of seeing the replay or tired of hearing people ask you about it?'" Drew said. "I'm really not because it was such a blessing from God. It was such a blessing to have my whole family be a part of it … to have my brother and dad both coaching."

[Related: Doh! Fans rush court after buzzer-beater, cost own team game]

Since Drew sank that game-winning three, he played in the NBA and overseas from 1998-2004 and served as an assistant to his father since 2005. He finally took over the program last May when his dad retired after two stints coaching Valpo from 1988-2002 and 2003-2011 with a one-season hiatus in the middle.

"When my dad was coaching, I always thought I would like to come back and coach under him and learn from him," Drew, now 37, said.

"And now to be [the head coach], it's a great blessing. And we have a great group of guys. I'd love for those guys to be able to go to the NCAA tournament because they've worked extremely hard. When you become a coach, you learn that it's all about the players. So I really want it for them and for them to be able to feel that all their hard work has paid off."

The younger Drew has hopes for another March run for Valpo (22-10, 14-4), which has been to the tournament three times since "The Shot" but has yet to win another game in the Big Dance. These Crusaders, who knocked off back-to-back national title runner-up Butler three times this season, including in the Horizon League semis on Saturday, boast conference player of the year Ryan Broekhoff.

[Related: PHOTOS: Baylor unveils insane neon basketball uniforms]

Sadly, things off the court haven't been as joyous for the Drew family in recent months. Both Homer Drew and his wife, Janet, were diagnosed with cancer in the middle of September — four months into his father's retirement and just as Bryce was readying for preseason practice.

According to the younger Drew, both of his parents are fighting the disease admirably. He said his father seems on a "full road to recovery," while his mother started her second round of treatment on Monday and has had marked improvement in the last two weeks.

"It's definitely been a challenging year, and I definitely feel like my perspective has changed in the last four or five months with everything that has gone on with my parents," Drew said.

"I'm very competitive. I hate to lose. I want to win just as much as the next coach. [But] it taught me to focus more on the moment. When I'm with my parents, I really enjoy being with them. When I'm with my team at practice, I really enjoy them."

[Related: Top 10 most iconic NCAA tournament moments ft. Bryce Drew's shot]

Bryce's brother and then-Valpo assistant, Scott, now is the coach of No. 12 Baylor, which could be a first-round opponent of the Crusaders if the tournament seeds and stars align — a possibility that Bryce said he hasn't even considered. Bryce knows that Valpo needs to get there first before he can think about following up his "One Shining Moment" as a coach.

"That had been our ultimate goal - to win a game in the NCAA tournament," Bryce said of 1998. "So, there was a bunch of emotions that all came together in that one shot and that one ball going through the hoop."

Emotions that Drew no doubt hopes he can feel all over again from the bench next week.

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