NASHVILLE — It took former Cyprus High standout Clayton Osborn just three games into his collegiate basketball career to manufacture his first "ESPN Moment" and to make a name for himself not only at Nashville's Lipscomb University but throughout most of Tennessee.
Lipscomb, a private university nestled in the foothills southeast of Nashville, was opening its new $12 million Allen Arena in late November, with a standing-room-only crowd of more than 5,000 on hand as the Bisons hosted North Texas State. The Mean Green had built a 54-35 lead with a little more than 15 minutes left in the game when Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson decided he'd seen enough. He inserted three freshmen — including Osborn — into the game, and Lipscomb responded with a 17-2 run, eventually pulling to within 73-72 with five seconds remaining.
North Texas' Lee Green was fouled intercepting a Lipscomb pass, making one of two free throws and leaving Lipscomb with the ball and a two-point deficit with three seconds left.
The rest has become Nashville sports history.
While guarded closely by Green in the backcourt, Osborn snagged the inbounds pass, juked the defender and in nearly a 360-degree spin heaved the ball down the opposite end of the court — similar to last-second shots he tried daily in personal workouts.
"Clayton got the ball to the right of the free-throw line," said Lipscomb sports information director Kevin Farris. "He cut to the middle of the court and launched a 60-foot shot just beyond the three-point line in backcourt. The ball hit nothing but net at the buzzer."
The result was a 75-74 Lipscomb victory and an impromptu 30-minute celebration on the floor of the new arena.
"It's already a legend down here," said Sanderson of the shot, praising Osborn for his 17 second-half points in the comeback win.
Osborn's final-second fling became even more famous — the "Play of the Day" on both ESPN and CNN the next day. Even now, weeks after "The Shot" a photo gallery of the event — from inbounds pass to the ball swooshing through the nylon — is sold to alumni and supporters inside and outside of Nashville.
Pretty heady stuff for Lipscomb, a university affiliated with the Church of Christ and a former NAIA basketball powerhouse making a foray into NCAA Division I competition. Playing an ambitious independent schedule this year before enjoying conference affiliation next season, Lipscomb was ranked 175th of the 327 Division I schools in the preseason Sagarin ratings. The Bison have since tumbled to No. 308 in this week's ratings after a 2-11 start.
Osborn is averaging 8.2 points and 1.8 assists a game, playing in all 13 games and starting eight. Not bad for 5-foot-11 point guard who led Cyprus High in scoring and assists as a senior but didn't earn all-state honors in Utah or get a sniff from local college coaches. In fact, he was all set to enroll at a Boston-area prep school for lack of a solid college offer.
Sanderson recalls getting a phone call last summer from Larry Guy, now an assistant coach at the University of Colorado, telling him about "a talented little guard he saw play in California." It was Osborn, who had honed his skills in summer camps and on summer-league teams, playing for a team called "Tru-Playaz" made up most of players from the metro Denver and Chicago areas.
"We had a number of great athletes the past couple of seasons, including six who had signed with D-1 schools, but no true leader on the court," said Tru-Playaz coach Antonio "Tree" Adams. "I saw Clayton play with his high school team here in Denver two years ago, and I thought, 'This is the kid.' "
With Osborn at the point, the team won its division at the Big Time tournament in Las Vegas and winning in the Pump and Run at Los Angeles. It was in Vegas that Osborn got linked with Lipscomb
"I sent my assistant coach, Jay Walton, out to see Clayton play in that tournament in Las Vegas," Sanderson said. "He called me back and said, 'This kid can play.' So we went after him."
Osborn signed on, making it clear that he would interrupt his college career after the first season to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Despite growing up playing basketball in Utah and his father's hoops history in the Beehive State (David Osborn played at the University of Utah during the mid-1960s and later coached at Salt Lake Community College), Osborn has found a home away from home in Tennessee.
Homesickness isn't much of a concern for Osborn. His three older sisters — Kelsi, Kassidy and Kristyn Osborn, who form the country trio SHeDAISY — are Nashville residents who often attend home games. And his parents have made numerous trips to the Music City to see him play, as have sister Karli, a senior at Cyprus who recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the Lady Bisons next year.