There are plenty of ways to make a statement in the NCAA Tournament. A lot of times, the best statements made are by relatively anonymous athletes from relatively anonymous programs rising up (in this case, literally) and announcing to the world that they exist.
Perhaps no one made a louder statement than Texas Tech’s looked over forward Darvin Ham.
Much like Darvin Ham, Texas Tech and its basketball program were overlooked and forgotten. The Southwest Conference was declining to move the needle nationally and on its way to completely dissolving. On top of that, Texas Tech has never been a traditional powerhouse so only the most dedicated NCAA fan would know of their existence.
It wasn’t until the Red Raiders went 30-2 during the 1995-96 season, won their conference tournament, and being ranked 8th in the nation per the AP Poll that anyone even whispered the name Texas Tech. Even then, all people talked about were their two surefire NBA bound players Jason Sasser and Tony Battie.
Though he was a starter and consistent contributor, Darvin Ham was overshadowed by his talented teammates. Ham was the teams 3rd best rebounder (Battie and Sasser grabbed more) and 5th best scorer. If anyone knew about Darvin Ham, that circle didn’t extend too far past the team, coaching staff, and diehard Red Raider fans.
The Red Raiders’ run in the 1996 NCAA Tournament did not start well. They struggled to close out 14th ranked Northern Illinois in the first round, edging out a 74-73 win. Their next opponent were the always relevant North Carolina Tar Heels who were ranked 6th in the tournament, but fielded a team that included future NBAers Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, and Jeff McInnis.
The game was a typical tournament seesaw battle. That is until Ham decided it was time to announce his existence.
Sasser dribbled the ball into the left side of the key where he threw a jump hook with Carter and Jamison contesting. The ball hits the back of the iron and goes straight up. Jamison makes the cardinal mistake forgetting that Ham was lurking at top of the key and failing to box him out. What happened next would be the one of the most iconic moments in the tournaments history.
MAKE IT RAIN, HAM!
Ham throws down a thunderous two handed put-back dunk that shatters the backboard and any hope of a Tar Hell victory. Texas Tech used the 19-minute delay to fix the board and the momentum from the dunk to rout North Carolina 93-72 and make their 3rd Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history.
Ham entered the NBA draft following the tournament, but was left forgotten and unpicked. However, the Denver Nuggets signed him as a free agent and he went on to play in the NBA for 9 seasons.
It’s tough to say whether the Nuggets would’ve signed Ham had he not literally wrecked the rim that fateful March day, but it would be irresponsible to say that it didn’t help him at least be visible on NBA scouts radar. Far too often you have NCAA players who are productive but never make it to the NBA because they never did anything that resembled a highlight reel play (I’m looking at you, Dwayne Fontana)
For Ham, the dunk meant a serviceable NBA career and eternal life in NCAA history. Anytime there is a mention of the greatest dunks of NCAA Tournament history, his evisceration of the backboard is always mentioned, and should always be mentioned forever. Congratulations, Darvin Ham. We know you exist.