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48 SECONDS FROM IMMORTALITY: The story of the 1990 Concord Minutemen

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Concord 1990 wide crowd shot

Concord and Bedford North Lawrence played in front of a record crowd of 41,046 people for the 1990 IHSAA boys basketball state championship at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.

DUNLAP — On March 24, 1990, more than 41,000 people packed the Hoosier Dome to watch a high school basketball game.

Most were there to see Damon Bailey, a living folk hero in Indiana. The state’s all-time leading scorer, Bailey had been recruited by then-Indiana University head coach Bob Knight since eighth grade. A senior now at Bedford North Lawrence, Bailey had one last chance to add a state championship to his already legendary resume.

But there was another team on the court that night — the Concord Minutemen. A team from near the Michigan border, the Minutemen entered the 1990 IHSAA State Championship Game with a 28-0 record, the No. 1 ranking in the state and four future Division-I college basketball players on the roster.

In many aspects, the Minutemen were the “other” team. They were the “other” team in the title game. They were also the “other” Concord team, as the 1988 team, led by future NBA all-star Shawn Kemp, went 28-0 en route to a championship game appearance. The 1990 Concord Minutemen believed, though, and it put them within 48 seconds of a state championship.

This is their story.

PART I: ROAD TO THE DOME

After finishing as the state runner-up in 1988, Concord had a disappointing 1989 season. They finished 18-4, but failed to get out of the sectional round. They played the entire 1989 season without Bill Mutch, though, a 6-4 forward/center who started on the 1988 team as a sophomore. Mutch was suspended for the 1989 season due to off-the-court reasons.

With Mutch coming back for his senior season, along with players like senior Jamar Johnson, senior Micah Sharp, junior Mike Swanson and junior Jeff Massey, the preseason expectations were simple: championship or bust.

“I thought anything less than a state championship would be a failed year,” Mutch said. “The two goals I had that year were to go undefeated and win a state championship. Those were the goals that I wrote down and looked at every single night.”

It was such a strong belief that the team’s motto for the season was “Believe.” They wore wristbands with the word on it, broke every huddle by saying “1-2-3, believe!” and head coach Jim Hahn even put a banner up with the word on it inside the locker room — accompanied by a picture of the Hoosier Dome.

“We just wanted to make it a mindset that this is really what we believe that we can do and where we’re going to get,” Hahn said.

The Minutemen faced minimal resistance to start the season. In their first 11 games, only two of them were decided by less than 10 points. Concord had moved up to No. 4 in the Indiana Associated Press rankings following an 81-68 victory over Penn to improve to 11-0 on the season.

What awaited the Minutemen next, though, was a showdown with No. 1 Warsaw. Not only was the Northern Lakes Conference championship going to be decided in this game, but the No. 1 ranking in the state was potentially on the line as well.

Factor in the Tigers beat Concord by 26 the year prior, and the Minutemen were more than ready for the biggest game in the state that week.

Going into that week, nobody had to really pump us up,” Sharp said. “We were ready to go because we had all remembered what had happened the year before, and now they were coming into our house.”

Concord alums, like 1989 graduate Dave Preheim, went out of their way to see the top-5 matchup.

“I was going to college in Kansas, and I talked to one of my college professors into letting me out of a final, or moving one of my finals, so that I could come home because we were playing Warsaw,” Preheim said.

The game wasn’t much of a game. Concord fed off its home crowd and stomped Warsaw, 98-67. Johnson scored 35 points as the Minutemen left no doubt who the top team in the state was.

Mike Swanson discusses the Warsaw game

“Nobody was going to beat us in McCuen Gym, period,” Mutch said. “That was just not going to happen even under our watch. And it didn’t. It turned out to be ‘The Jamar Johnson Show.’ The four of us starters kind of stepped back and watched it happen.”

“That was probably just a magical night for me," Johnson added. "Just because I knew that night, everybody in the state was looking at that game. If I wanted to make All-State, this was the moment for me to make my mark. ... And man, did the stars align for us that night.”

Concord 1990 Mutch Johnson regional

Concord seniors Bill Mutch, left, and Jamar Johnson, right, celebrate winning the 1990 regional boys basketball championship.

Concord moved to No. 1 in the following week’s rankings and stayed there for the rest of the season. They entered the 1990 state basketball tournament with an average winning margin of 21.2 points.

The Minutemen then faced no resistance in the early rounds of the tournament. They beat Goshen, Penn and Elkhart Central to win the sectional; Bremen and East Noble to win the regional and Whitko in the semistate semifinal.

All that stood in the way between Concord and a state semifinals berth — literally — were Jon and Joe Ross of Northfield. Standing at 6-9 and 6-10, respectively, the Ross twins posed the biggest threat to Concord throughout the postseason run. The Minutemen’s tallest player? Mutch, at 6-4.

“I was more worried about how we were going to defend them than was worried about our offense because, offensively, I thought if we’d be able to score, we’d be fine,” Hahn said. “I was just concerned about defense.”

The game came down to the final seconds. With the score tied at 52, Concord had possession. Mutch wound up with the ball and passed it off to Massey, who put up a shot. As the shot was coming down, Jon Ross blocked it, causing a goaltending call. The basket counted, and the Minutemen went up 54-52 with two seconds left in the game.

Concord 1990 semistate champs

The 1990 Concord boys basketball team takes a team picture after winning the semistate championship, advancing to the state semifinals.

Northfield still had one more chance to score, but Jon Ross missed a layup as time expired. Concord was the semistate champions and on to the state semifinals the next weekend at the Hoosier Dome.

“I just remember beating the crap out of those guys,” Swanson said. “We committed so many fouls because we were so much smaller than those guys. It was a very difficult matchup because of their height. The goaltending at the end of the game was a dramatic way to win the game.”

“Our whole team, we just always played as a unit,” Johnson added. “I think the magical moment to show that we were destined to go to Indianapolis was that last play. I mean, how does a 6-10, 6-11 guy miss a layup at the buzzer? We’re talking destiny now.”

PART II: GAME 1 IN THE DOME

Back in the single-class system, the state semifinal and final games were played on the same day. In the 1990 northern semifinal game, Concord played the Anderson Indians. The southern draw saw Bedford North Lawrence against Southport.

Concord entered the weekend with the No. 1 ranking, but they were far from being the favorites.

“I talked to several of the coaches … from the southern schools that (Bedford North Lawrence) played and they all told me the same thing when we talked: ‘Jim, you have a really good team — you’re not going to win a state championship,’” Hahn said. “And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ And they’re going, ‘Damon Bailey is going to win the state championship.’”

The atmosphere around Concord all week was electric.

“I remember getting a lot of ticket requests, I can tell you that,” Mutch said.

“A lot of that stuff is kind of a blur, but I do remember when we were getting on the bus to go down to state, we had a charter bus and they had police in the front and the back trailing us down to state,” Sharp added.

The team went down to Indianapolis on the Friday before the state games to do a shootaround. Hahn let the team walk around the Hoosier Dome for 15 minutes before the team practiced in the former home of the Indianapolis Colts.

“The Hoosier Dome hit me when we walked in there for our shootaround for our practice on Friday,” Johnson said. “They let all teams in there for an hour and 15 minutes; that’s when it hit me. That’s when I thought, ‘This is crazy. This is crazy.’”

Concord 1990 Johnson driving semifinal game

Concord senior Jamar Johnson, left, drives up court during the 1990 state semifinal game against Anderson.

Concord played the first semifinal game that Saturday. After going up by 20 points on Anderson, the Indians came back to tie the game late. Anderson ran out of energy, though, and Concord was able to hang on to a 70-66 victory.

Playing in the Hoosier Dome wasn't that hard, according to Swanson.

“The Hoosier Dome, because of the way the floor was setup … we could communicate with each other because the crowd was so far away from you, and it was such a large place,” Swanson said. “That’s kind of what struck me. It was amazing to look around, but while we were on the floor, it was like we were in the gym by ourselves talking to each other.”

Bedford North Lawrence defeated Southport, 58-55, in the second semifinal game, setting up the matchup everyone wanted: The No. 1 team in the state vs. the No. 1 high school player in the country.

“We wanted to beat him because we knew he was an Indiana legend, and that’s kind of how our team was — we wanted to beat the best and we wanted to beat Damon Bailey,” Swanson said. “It was definitely something we looked forward to because we had a lot of confidence in ourselves to win that game. We wanted to beat the best because we knew if we win the state championship and beat any other team, they’re not going to look at it (the same).”

PART III: DAMON BAILEY, AND 41,046 PEOPLE

There was no doubt in the Concord locker room who was going to win the state championship that night.

“We thought we were going to win state when we got on the bus, so when we got to the championship game, we still were thinking we’re going to win the game,” Sharp said.

Swanson was tasked with guarding Bailey first, something the junior knew he’d have to do.

“Almost every game, whoever the best player was, whether it was a point guard or a big guy, I would take on their leading scorer as a defender,” Swanson said. “It was kind of my role, so I knew I was going to have to guard him.”

Mike Swanson discusses guarding Damon Bailey

Bailey and the Stars started the game strong. The state’s all-time leading scorer had 11 points, BNL shot 9-of-12 from the field and they took a 24-18 lead over Concord after the first quarter.

Hahn knew he wanted to rotate different defenders onto Bailey throughout the game. After the first quarter, a defensive change was made.

“I believe Jamar came into the huddle between quarters and I asked, ‘You want to guard him?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ That’s what you want,” Hahn said. “You want your best player to step up to that challenge.”

The adjustment worked. Bailey was held scoreless in the second quarter and Concord outscored BNL, 19-8, in the frame. The Minutemen took their first lead of the game, 31-30, on a three-point play from Mutch with 4:35 to go in the half. They led 37-32 at halftime.

"Me and Damon probably played three or four times that summer in AAU against one another," Johnson said. "So, he knew me, I knew him. Damon was the type of player where he was smart; he was a smart basketball player. Maybe I did slow him down — I’d like to think that."

Bedford didn’t go away easily, though. They fought back to tie the game at 46 going into the fourth. Bailey scored eight points in the period to send the Stars and Minutemen into a dramatic fourth quarter.

“Just intently focused on the mission at hand,” Mutch said. “We’ve got eight minutes to go win a state championship, period. At that point, it didn’t matter if there were 40,000 people in the gym or 2,000 people in the gym. We knew what needed to be done.”

“I don’t think anybody was in fear, not even (Massey),” Sharp added. “It’s close now, but we’re just going to have to squeak it out like we did at semistate.”

Concord came out strong to start the fourth. It built its biggest lead of the game, 58-52, with 2:38 to go in the contest. The Minutemen could taste a state championship.

“We had a possession in there as we were running the offense, there was a thought in the back of my mind, ‘Do we pull it out? Do we make them foul or take nothing but a layup?’ We were probably one possession away from doing that, and we didn’t,” Hahn said.

Bailey wouldn’t go quietly into the night, though. He went on a 7-0 run of his own to give the Stars a 59-58 lead with 59 seconds remaining in the game. Concord called a timeout.

After the break, the Minutemen executed a perfect play for Johnson. The all-state senior buried a jumper on the baseline, giving Concord a 60-59 lead with 48 seconds left in the contest.

And then, “it” happened.

Following the Johnson field goal, Bailey took the inbounds pass and started running up court. The BNL senior headed straight towards the basket and ran right into Mutch. The referee called the foul on Mutch.

Everyone in green and white disagrees.

“When I saw it, I originally thought, ‘That is a charge!’ And so then, I looked up at the screen because they had the big screens and I wanted to see the replay,” Sharp said. “And they showed a Prudential Insurance advertisement, and I was like, ‘Where’s the replay?’ Still to this day, I believed that it was a charge.”

“My mind hasn’t changed since my original thought on that,” Hahn added.

Bailey sank both free throws to put BNL ahead by one with 40 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, the Minutemen missed a potential go-ahead bucket. While going up for the rebound, Bailey was fouled. He made two more free throws to give the Stars a 63-60 advantage with 24 seconds left.

Concord had one more chance to tie the game. The Minutemen wound up getting four cracks at knocking down a ‘3’ in the final 17 seconds of the game.

Jamar Johnson on the ending of the 1990 state championship game

Johnson took the first one and missed, but Johnson grabbed the rebound and passed it to Massey. His ‘3’ attempt then rattled out, but Sharp grabbed the rebound. Sharp ran beyond the three-point line to take a shot, but his attempt also missed. Massey grabbed one last rebound and fired another ‘3,’ but it was short. BNL junior Jason Lambrecht grabbed the rebound, the clock ran out and Bedford North Lawrence were the state champions.

Bill Mutch on 1990 vs. 1988 team

“I had nightmares after that,” Sharp said. “I had nightmares about that shot. I actually had a dream where that shot went in, and then I woke up and I realized it was a dream.”

“I was in disbelief and I had this overwhelming thought of, ‘I just let all of my teammates down and I letdown coach Hahn,’” Mutch added. “At that time, my heart broke for Jamar, and my heart broke for coach Hahn. That was it. Those were the two people that it bothered me the most that we couldn’t finish the job.”

It took Johnson and Sharp 25 years to watch the game back through its entirety. Mutch has watched it multiple times, but not in 15 years. Hahn said it took him 27 years to watch it back. Swanson refuses to watch the game.

“I literally will never watch that game,” Swanson said. “It didn’t end the way I wanted it to end. I know the result; there’s no reason for me to breakdown that film and watch it again.”

Mutch has the unique role of being at the center of the controversial block/charge call to end the game. While he still thinks it should’ve been a charge, he’s accepted the events that transpired in that moment.

“I don’t mind that call being a block in that, over the past 30 years to reflect, I think Damon Bailey deserved that call,” Mutch said. “I am OK with it, given what he did for his entire career in Indiana high school basketball.”

PART IV: LEGACY

Micah Sharp discusses the depth of the 1990 Concord team

Concord finished the season 28-1 for the second time in three years. The 1990 team is one of five boys basketball teams from Elkhart County to ever reach the state championship game. Only one — 2004 Jimtown — won a state championship, under the new class system that had been implemented in 1998.

That’s why many players from the 1990 team believe they’re the best team to ever come from the county — even better than the ’88 Concord team led by Kemp.

“I think our legacy has to be the best team in the history of Concord basketball. I really do,” Johnson said. “The ’88 team was the most talented, but I think the ’90 team goes down as the best team in the history of Concord basketball thus to this point. First time the school’s been ranked No. 1. Statistically, we were probably the best team.”

“To me, I still think that was the best team that ever played at Concord,” Hahn said. “I truly believe that was the best team I ever coached when I was there my 11 years. Between the ’88 and ’90 teams, I just think it was a special group and they did it without Shawn. I really think, after Shawn left, a lot of people were going to write Concord off.

“They came back and had a very special, special season; one I’m sure they’ll all remember and one I’ll always remember.”

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.

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