Monday, December 18, 2006

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Silver bells. Twinkling lights. Children singing. There’s a feeling in the air. It’s Braggin’ Rights time.

With the Missouri and Illinois hoops teams set for their annual meeting in St. Louis on Tuesday, I’m in a reflective mood. It’s time to relive the history of the Braggin’ Rights series, or at least one side of it, remembering Mizzou’s greatest moments while completely ignoring the Illini’s. Who’s with me?

Pre-history of the rivalry

Before the Tigers and Illini ever played a game, they shared a coach. Craig Ruby, a Kansas City native who twice earned All-America honors as a player for the Tigers, coached Missouri to a cumulative record of 33-2 in the 1920-21 and 1921-22 seasons. Then, just two years into his coaching career, Ruby left for the University of Illinois, where he guided the basketball program for fourteen years, a span that included the first two meetings between the schools, both won by the Illini. (As detailed in True Sons, Ruby also had a hand in the rise of Kentucky basketball. John Mauer, one of Ruby’s earliest players at Illinois, went on to become the first successful coach in Lexington, where he installed the system that Ruby had learned from coach Walter Meanwell at Missouri. When Mauer left UK, he was replaced by a young high school coach named Adolph Rupp, who got the job largely on Ruby’s recommendation. Rather than employ the system he had learned as a player at the University of Kansas, Rupp adopted Ruby’s system, and the rest, as they say, is history).

Missouri and Illinois played only a few times before the 1970s, but their meeting in 1946 provided one of the greatest upsets in the Tigers’ history. Sparky Stalcup had just begun his long career as Mizzou’s coach in December 1946 when the Tigers traveled to Kansas City for the first-ever Big Six basketball tournament (trivia time: Southern Methodist, which along with Arkansas had been invited to round out the eight-team field, won the event, despite not being a member of the conference). After winning just one of three games in the tourney, Missouri stayed in Kansas City to face a formidable, storied Illinois team. In the 1942-43 season, the Illini had the nation’s best team, a group led by All-American Andy Phillip and known as the Whiz Kids. Toward the end of the year, though, a higher calling beckoned, and all five starters were pressed into military duty at the height of the Second World War With war over, Phillip and three of the remaining starters returned to school, where they were joined in the lineup by Walt Kirk, who himself had earned All-America honors in 1945. Undefeated and favored by as many as twenty-four points, the Illini appeared invincible when they rolled into Municipal Auditorium.

But war’s end had also brought good news to the Tigers, as Dan Pippin and Thornton Jenkins – two of the best players of their day – returned to campus and teamed up for the first time. And while each of them would give fine efforts against Illinois, the heroes were Darrel Lorrance, a transfer from Kentucky who scored 18 points, and center John Rudolph who hit the crucial shot late in a 55-50 Mizzou triumph that inspired many of the 4,500 fans on hand to spill onto the floor to celebrate the Tigers’ victory.

Long before he ever coached a game, Norm Stewart made his mark on the rivalry in another tremendous upset. With stars Bob Reiter and Med Park having graduated, Stewart, then a senior, led the Tigers to a 2-1 mark early in the 1955-56 season. Illinois came to Columbia ranked eighth nationally, and built a fifteen-point lead against the Tigers. But Stewart led a remarkable comeback, scoring 27 points in the second half as Mizzou prevailed 74-73. The teams would not meet again for two decades.

Braggin’ Rights

The seeds for what has come to be known as the Braggin’ Rights game were sown on December 3, 1976, when the Tigers and Illini met for the first time in twenty-one years. Missouri won 76-75 in Columbia, and the teams played an annual home-and-home series through 1979. Tiger Larry Drew starred in the final game to be played on-campus, scoring 25 points as Mizzou beat Illinois 67-66 in overtime in Champaign.

The game moved to St. Louis for good in December 1980, and has been played there annually ever since, save for a one-year break in 1982. Illinois took the first meeting at the old St. Louis Arena, but the Tigers got revenge the next year with a 78-68 overtime victory as Ricky Frazier scored 28 points.

Let’s, ahem, pretend the next several years never happened. In 1991, Jevon Crudup, Anthony Peeler, Melvin Booker and Jeff Warren each scored in double figures as the surprising 16th-ranked Tigers moved their record to 8-0 with a 61-44 triumph over the Illini. Mizzou made it two straight the next season, as Melvin Booker recorded 16 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in a 66-65 victory.

Missouri’s third consecutive win in the series is a story unto itself and the best basketball game I’ve ever seen. The Tigers’ epic, heroic (even lucky) 108-107 three-overtime triumph set the stage for one of the greatest seasons in Mizzou history, and marked the indisputable high point of the rivalry series. And Melvin Booker, with 21 points and 13 assists, solidified his spot as the top Tiger player in Braggin’ Rights lore.

Missouri won its fourth straight against the Illini (the Tigers’ longest winning streak in the series) in 1994, a 76-58 win paced by Paul O’Liney (19 points), Derek Grimm (18) and Julian Winfield (15). Then, after losses the next two seasons, the Tigers resumed their winning ways in 1997. New Tiger Albert White posted 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Norm Stewart got his 700th career coaching victory in a 75-69 win. John Woods led MU with 15 points in a 67-62 victory in 1998, and then Clarence Gilbert, a sophomore guard theretofore known primarily for his defense, made a statement in the 1999 contest. Though they trailed by fourteen points in the first half, the Tigers clawed back into the game, and Gilbert scored twelve straight points for Mizzou in the second half to carry the Tigers to a 78-72 triumph. With 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting (five of seven from the arc), Gilbert gave the first of many memorable performances in a Tiger uniform.

The game has been less memorable for Missouri fans in subsequent years (really, have they played it since 1999?), but Braggin’ Rights remains one of the great non-conference match-ups in college basketball. Now, Mike Anderson gets to make his mark on the rivalry. The last (and only) Mizzou coach to lose his first game against Illinois was George Edwards in 1932. Here’s hoping that Coach Edwards keeps that distinction to himself.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My Chat with Chris Gervino

Recently, Chris Gervino was kind enough to have me on the KOMU Sunday Night Sports Show to talk about True Sons. You can watch the segment by clicking here. Chris and the crew added some classic Mizzou hoops footage that I think you'll enjoy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

On TV in Springfield on Monday

Finally a chance to venture into southwest Missouri. I'll be on the KY3 morning show on Monday (December 11) some time in the 6:00 hour to talk about the history of Tiger hoops.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Glamorous Life

Sorry for the recent inactivity, but the past ten days have been a whirlwind of book promotion, with TV and radio appearances across the state, and a long, unintentional layover in Columbia thanks to the mother of all snowstorms.

The big promotional push is winding down, but there are a few stops left. I’ll be on The Spot on channel 38 in Kansas City on Thursday evening at 7:00, and I should show up on Chris Gervino’s Sunday night sports show on KOMU in Columbia this weekend. It also looks like I’ll be on KY3’s morning show in Springfield some day next week. I’ll post more info when I know it.

And I’ll share more thoughts on this when time allows, but doesn’t this basketball team make you proud? Their intensity, selflessness and sense of purpose are a joy to watch. As long as they continue to play like this, I’ll be happy regardless of results (but make no mistake, I’ll be even happier if they win). Obviously, we’ll need the perspective of more time to make any real judgments, but a mere four weeks into the season, it seems like the hiring of Mike Anderson was the best thing to happen to Mizzou athletics in ages.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

This Date in Mizzou History

November 23, 1988: Behind 21 points from swingman Byron Irvin, the Tigers top fifth-ranked North Carolina, 91-81, to advance to the finals of the Preseason NIT in New York.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This Date in Mizzou History

Here are three stories from the Tigers' past, as November 22 shall henceforth be known as Kick the Crap Out of Kansas Day.

November 22, 1941: Missouri halfback Harry Ice ran for 240 yards on just eight carries as coach Don Faurot’s Tigers routed Kansas, 45-6.

November 22, 1969: In the final regular season game of the year, Dan Devine’s Missouri Tigers clinched a share of the Big Eight title and an Orange Bowl berth with a 69-21 demolition of Kansas. Jon Staggers and Mel Gray each scored three touchdowns (Terry McMillan threw for four), and Joe Moore rushed for 167 yards in the resounding victory. One legend has Kansas coach Pepper Rodgers saying “I gave Dan [Devine] the peace sign, and he gave half of it back to me.”

November 22, 1986: On the heels of a 77-0 humiliation at Oklahoma, a Missouri football team that had won just two games all year took out its frustrations on arch-rival Kansas, whipping the Jayhawks, 48-0.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On TV tonight in KC

I'll be on Metro Sports Talk (6:00 p.m., Time Warner Cable channel 30) tonight to talk about the book with Mick Shaffer.

This Date in Mizzou History

November 21, 2001: Down by eleven points with 2:15 minutes to play, the Tigers mounted a remarkable rally against Iowa in the finals of the Guardian’s Classic basketball tournament in Kansas City. Kareem Rush and Rickey Paulding sank three-pointers to close the gap, and Clarence Gilbert capped the comeback with a free throw in the game’s final second to give Missouri a 78-77 victory.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

This Date in Mizzou History

November 19, 1960: The most infamous football game in Missouri’s history happened in Columbia, as the undefeated, top-ranked Tigers played host to arch-rival Kansas, ranked thirteenth, in the regular season finale. The Jayhawk defense stifled Missouri’s running attack, and KU’s star running back Bert Coan scored two touchdowns in a 23-7 Kansas victory that cost Mizzou the national title. Two weeks later, the game’s result was reversed. The NCAA ruled that Coan had been ineligible to play, and forced Kansas to forfeit the game. But despite technically finishing with a perfect record, Missouri’s dreams of winning the mythical national championship were dashed on one bitter day at Faurot Field.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

That. Was. Painful.

I have nothing more to say.

This Date in Mizzou History

November 18, 1978: Tiger running back James Wilder ran for 181 yards and four touchdowns, and tight end Kellen Winslow accounted for 132 receiving yards and a touchdown of his own, as Mizzou upset second-ranked Nebraska, 35-31, in Lincoln.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bond. George Bond.

George Bond’s name has popped up in the papers now that Mike Anderson is the first Missouri coach to start his tenure at 4-0 since Bond did it in 1922-23. And while Bond’s name won’t mean much to modern Mizzou fans, he was an important figure in what may have been the most successful era in Missouri basketball history.

In the period around World War I, the Tigers rose to prominence as perhaps the best program in the country, building a mini-dynasty on the philosophies of former Wisconsin coach Walter Meanwell, who led the team to 17-1 records and Missouri Valley championships in 1918 and 1920 (Meanwell was called to military duty through the 1918-19 season). After the second title, Meanwell returned to the University of Wisconsin, replaced by Craig Ruby, one of Mizzou’s finest players. During Ruby’s two-year run at coach, one of his best players was George Bond, who helped the Tigers to two more conference titles, and a cumulative 33-2 record. One prominent hoops historian ranks Missouri as the nation’s best team in both of those seasons.

When Ruby left for the University of Illinois in 1922, Bond rose from team captain to head coach. His first team was stocked with talent, including three-time All-American Herb Bunker, two-time pick Arthur “Bun” Browning, and junior guard Don Faurot, who built something of a legacy at Mizzou himself. Bond’s Tigers opened the 1922-23 season with five straight lopsided wins before Phog Allen’s Kansas Jayhawks came to Columbia and escaped with a 21-19 victory. But the Missouri team regrouped and went on a tear, defeating all collegiate competition (they lost one game to Kansas City Athletic Club, an elite group of former collegians) over the next six weeks, and the Tigers pulled into Lawrence late in the season with a chance to earn at least a share of the conference title. But another close loss to KU – this one by a 23-20 score – ended their aspirations.

Bond’s Tigers finished the season with a 15-3 record and the nation’s number three ranking, but it was the end of an era. Bunker and Browning graduated, and the Tigers went into a tailspin. After the successful first season, Bond’s team went just 4-14 in year two. After two more losing seasons, Bond left coaching for a career with General Motors.

Media bits: The promotional onslaught for True Sons has begun, which means many media appearances for me. This Sunday, I’ll talk with Ron Jacober on mighty KMOX at 12:10 p.m., leading up to coverage of Mizzou’s game against Davidson. On Tuesday, November 21 at 6:00 p.m., I’ll be on Metro Sports Talk in Kansas City (Time Warner Cable, channel 30), and the next morning, at 8:25, I’ll visit with Tom Bradley on KFRU in Columbia. I will also speak to the Tiger Quarterback Club at their noon meeting in Columbia on Monday, November 27.

I’m also pleased to report that I’ll appear regularly on KTGR’s Tiger Warm-Up show before most Mizzou basketball games throughout the season. I’ll join Kyle Elfrink to talk Tiger history in the final ten minutes of each show.

Several more appearances are in the works, and I’ll report them as they get closer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On the Radio in Jefferson City

In addition to Thursday morning's appearance on Fox 4 in Kansas City, I'll be on KWOS (950 AM) in Jefferson City this Friday, November 17, at 8:35 a.m. to talk about True Sons. I believe they'll be giving away a copy of the book at the end of the interview, so tune in.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

True Sons on TV

For those in the Kansas City area, I'll be on the Fox 4 Morning Show this Thursday, November 16 at 8:20 a.m. to talk about the book.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Three out of three ain’t bad

Three games, three days, three wins. Makes for a good weekend. Still, the whole “John Thompson Classic” thing confuses me. I’m not sure why a tournament named for Thompson was played in Columbia, Missouri, nor am I sure what Thompson had to do with the event, but nonetheless, it was great fun to finally start the Mike Anderson era at Mizzou.

As for the Tigers’ play, it wasn’t always pretty, but it was usually entertaining, and the effort was heartening. The defense, when executed at a high level, is electrifying, and the ball movement on offense was impressive, especially on Friday night (the guards were terrific and Leo Lyons produced some slick interior passes). The days of bounce-bounce-bounce on the perimeter are over . . . Let's raise a glass to Kalen Grimes. With Kevin Young gone and no experienced big men on the team, it was imperative for Grimes to step up this year, and it appears that he has embraced the challenge, both in his effort on the court and in his conditioning off of it. His tournament MVP award was well-deserved . . . In the first two games of the weekend, I think we saw how hard it is to play a full 40 minutes with the kind of intensity Anderson’s system demands, especially for a team not used to playing with that sort of mental stamina. I’m willing to attribute Missouri’s second half lulls to a lapse in concentration, and I’m prone to believe that Army’s comeback on Saturday will be good for the team. If the Tigers didn’t understand how dangerous a letdown can be, they do now. . . I’m not sure which of these variations on the same theme is more remarkable: that Nick Berardini (three points) outscored Marshall Brown (two) in the Tigers’ opening game, or that Mizzou scored 101 points despite Brown’s meager output. . . Honk if you thought Matt Lawrence would score 27 points in any game this season, let alone the first one . . . I spotted Nolan Richardson at the Arena on Friday and Saturday, and it’s still a little jarring to think of him as a Tiger fan, especially with all the bruising battles his Arkansas teams had against Mizzou back in the day . . . I stopped by the Tiger radio wrap-up show on Friday night at T. K. Brothers to see Todd Donoho (the show’s host), and I chatted briefly with associate head coach Melvin Watkins. We talked about what an impressive all-around performance Leo Lyons gave against North Carolina A&T, and how mature freshman guard J. T. Tiller appeared in his first collegiate game . . . Years ago, an acquaintance complained that one particularly notable pianist played with an ugly technique. “Maybe,” I said, “but he sounds great.” That’s sort of how I feel when watching Keon Lawrence and his crazy elbows chuck up a three-point shot. Shooting form aside, it was great to see Keon return from injury three weeks ahead of schedule; he certainly gave the Tigers a boost with his presence and his energy . . . Milestone watch: Mike Anderson is the first Missouri men’s basketball coach to win his first three games at the helm since Sparky Stalcup’s Tigers beat Drake, Westminster and St. Louis University to start the 1946-47 season. If Mizzou can handle Lipscomb and Davidson in the coming week, Anderson would match the 5-0 start that George Bond enjoyed in 1922-23. Then, if the Tigers can top Stephen F. Austin, Anderson would be off to the best start of any new coach since Craig Ruby, who tasted victory in the first 17 games of the 1920-21 season. Suffice it to say that if Anderson could equal or surpass Ruby’s mark, there would be euphoria in Columbia and disbelief across America. . . . The Recruiting front: With just one scholarship currently available for next season, the Tigers’ top target appears to be Tyrel Reed, a 6’3” point guard from Burlington, Kansas, and Mike DeArmond reports that Mizzou’s staff is also pursuing 6’ 1” Anthony Nelson, from Plainfield, New Jersey. I’ll confess to being puzzled by the strategy. With juniors Stefhon Hannah and Jason Horton and freshmen J. T. Tiller and Keon Lawrence all set to return next year, with each capable of playing the point, and with a relative paucity of skilled post players on the roster, I’m surprised that the staff isn’t focusing its efforts on big men. Missouri should have seven scholarships to offer for the 2008-09 season, and could pursue both a high school and a junior college point guard in that class, if necessary. Still, it’s safe to say that Mike Anderson knows better than I do the kinds of players he needs to succeed.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

This Date in Mizzou History

November 12, 1960: Behind 169 yards rushing from Norris Stevenson, the Tigers travel to Norman and whip Oklahoma, 41-19, to move to 9-0 on the season and leap to number one in the wire service polls for the first time in school history.

Friday, November 10, 2006

On the radio

If anyone in Mid-Missouri cares to hear my dulcet tones, I'll be on 1580 KTGR with Kyle Elfrink at around 5:25 this evening to talk about the book and the first century of Mizzou hoops.

Welcome to Century Two

It starts tonight. The second century of Missouri Tigers basketball. A new era, with a new coach, new team, new hope, and hopefully, a new pride.

When I started working on the project that became True Sons, there was nothing but hope in the program. We had not yet heard of Ricky Clemons or the lauded recruiting class of Robert Whaley, Jeffrey Ferguson, Duane John and Uche Okafor. Tiger teams coalesced around the character of Brian Grawer and Clarence Gilbert. They could make us proud even in defeat (as against Duke in the 2001 NCAA Tournament), but especially in victory, most notably in the run to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2002. At that moment, it was a program ascending, and as I looked toward the horizon, I could see a fairytale ending to the first 100 years, a book that concluded with a trip to the Final Four, a prize that has eluded us, and in some ways defined us, for far too long.

Now, that seems like such a long time ago. You know the history, I don’t need to rehash it here. Suffice it to say that the events of the past four seasons have shaken Missouri basketball to its core, and stripped us of our pride. But even through all the turmoil, we did get one good thing at the end of Century One: A clean slate.

The effects of the previous regime’s downfall may linger, but they won’t incapacitate Mike Anderson’s vision of Mizzou’s future. Football programs are barges, slow-moving things that take time to change course. Basketball programs are speedboats, able to turn on a dime on the strength of a couple of players, the right style, and leadership borne of character. Three years ago, Texas A&M went winless in the Big 12. Now the Aggies are league’s best team south of Lawrence. Two years ago, Tennessee fired its coach. Last season, the Vols earned a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament. Is it fair to assume that Mike Anderson will achieve those results so quickly? No. But is it OK to have faith that better things are on the way for Missouri basketball? Absolutely.

I think Mike Anderson is the right man at the right time, one who can build a sustainable and successful program over the long haul, the kind that will make Missouri fans proud again. I’ll be in the Arena tonight to drink in every moment of the beginning of a new era.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

This Date in Mizzou History

November 8, 1997: Nebraska 45, Missouri 38 (OT). The kicked ball. Enough said.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chaos in Columbia

The first “Wow!” came just ninety seconds in to the start of Missouri’s exhibition basketball season.

With the Tigers leading 5-0, Missouri-Rolla sank a three-pointer from the right wing, the first basket allowed in Mike Anderson’s tenure as Mizzou’s coach. The inbounds play that followed was a blur, the ball blazing up the court to Matt Lawrence, who took – and made – a three-point shot with thirty-three seconds left on the thirty-five second shot clock. That, friends, is lightning.

I don’t know what the effort against the low-grade competition of Mizzou’s two exhibition opponents portends for the season, but I know what it means for me – the need to re-teach myself how to watch basketball. The style is so fast, so chaotic, that your eyes and brain don’t get to rest while either team walks it up the court. I’m willing to bet that there will be at least 20% more possessions in Missouri’s games than just a year ago. I know that Mizzou’s brave new style is exhausting for me to watch. I can only wonder what it’s like to play against.

I also know that Stefhon Hannah is for real. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a Missouri guard toy with opponents – even patently inferior ones – the way that Hannah did in exhibition play. He showed leadership, smarts and impressive instincts in both games, and his stat lines – averages of 20.5 points, 7.5 assists and 5 steals in 25 minutes per game – were eye-popping, as was the chemistry he displayed with Marshall Brown, who should thrive in this new system.

Questions, of course, remain, especially inside, where Kalen Grimes is the only conventional big man currently suiting up. I don’t know what has caused Leo Lyons’s indefinite suspension, but his lingering absence could hurt this team and make for a huge opportunity lost for him as a player. With his length and athleticism, Lyons would appear to be tailor-made for Anderson’s system. For his sake and the sake of the team, here’s hoping that Leo gets it together and soon.

Random notes: I saw only a little of Kansas’s exhibition opener against Washburn, but I saw, read and heard enough to know that the Jayhawks’ 6’9” freshman Darrell Arthur makes for another ridiculous talent on a roster that already is an embarrassment of riches. In 1957, when KU sophomore Wilt Chamberlain was systematically destroying conference opponents, The Savitar, the University of Missouri’s yearbook, wrote that “until someone comes up with an idea to stop Wilt, the Tigers are going to have to settle for some position besides first in the basketball race.” Now, until and unless Arthur, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright leave en masse for the NBA, I fear that the entire remainder of the Big 12 will be fighting for second place. . . . Unsolicited advice to Bill Self: Cut ties with C.J. Giles now. As Mizzou fans know all too well, a player who is unable to control his worst impulses can destroy a team – even a very good one – from the inside. And the fact of the matter is that the Hawks don’t need him anyway. The Big 12 is hardly bursting with dominant centers. Surround Sasha Kaun or Darnell Jackson with some combination of Arthur, Rush, Wright, Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins, and KU goes 15-1 in the league, or start Rush, Wright and Arthur as a smallish but supernaturally gifted front line and dare teams to keep up (update: within a minute of this post originally going up, news broke that Giles had been dismissed from the team. Credit where credit's due, Coach Self) . . . . I have conflicting thoughts about K-State’s three-overtime exhibition epic against Division II Washburn. While my first thought is to smile, my second thought is to conclude that it’s no big deal. In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of good teams struggle in the exhibition season, as Oklahoma, Iowa State and Nebraska have all done this past week. Then, I have this third thought about the quality of the Cats’ guard play. While one number is surely an anomaly – KSU’s outside shooting can’t possibly be as bad as their four three-pointers in thirty tries would suggest – another sticks out at me, and that’s 15, the number of minutes that all-everything juco-transfer guard Blake Young played in the 55-minute game. If Young isn’t able to shore up the Cats’ middling backcourt, the transition to Huggins Ball could be bumpy, especially as K-State relies on inexperienced, offensively-limited players in the low post. The Wildcats’ forwards (Cartier Martin, David Hoskins, potentially Bill Walker) are terrific, but if they don’t get solid production out of their centers and guards, they may not make the expected leap above the pack of Big 12 north pretenders.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

All Good but the Game

Nebraska Brian and I left Kansas City at about 3:30 on Friday afternoon, and headed straight up I-29, combining a mix of the Waterboys, Ramones and the Sugar Hill Gang with lively discussion about Amendment 2 and the novels of Ernest Hemingway. After cutting across the southwest corner of Iowa, we headed into Nebraska City for a ceremonial Runza, and then up to Lincoln, where we gorged at the Valentino’s buffet, including the obligatory slice of bacon cheeseburger pizza (pickles and mustard on pizza? Oh, yes). Having experienced both of the state’s culinary icons, it was on to downtown, where a swing through the Nebraska Bookstore netted the night’s first celebrity sighting, as 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers was on hand to hawk copies of his new book on the final years of Bob Devaney’s tenure as the Huskers’ head football coach.

From there, we headed to Cliff’s Lounge, where neither the d├ęcor nor the music has changed since 1984, but the menu of signature kamikaze drinks has expanded exponentially (I had the Sharkwater, which has a bite worthy of its name). The next stop was surely the most colorful, as we made our way into the famous Sidetrack Tavern, home of the equally famous Sidetrack Band, which is led by the peculiar and bawdy mother-son team of Joyce and Paul. The place was hopping, and Mizzou fans were out in force, including a jolly bearded fellow in a Chase Daniel jersey, a nice couple from my home base of Parkville, and big Gary Leonard, who anchored the great Missouri basketball teams of the late 1980’s from his spot in the pivot. After experiencing some rousing Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Snoop Dogg covers, we headed out into the fresh air, and inexplicably found a used CD/record shop open and completely empty at 11:30 p.m. While the proprietor, with an unnerving enthusiasm, explained to my entourage (which by then had grown to four people) why he prefers Velvet Revolver to the newly reconstituted Guns n’ Roses, I searched in vain for David Johansen’s long out-of-print solo debut, but found a copy of Jesse Malin’s The Heat, an album my buddy Trip (who was absent) insists will reward my investment.

The evening’s final stop was the upstairs bar at W.C.’s, which was pretty sleepy, thus allowing easy access to the bartender and unlimited play at the pool tables. As closing time neared, it was off to bed (thanks to Phil for the use of the couch).

Morning brought a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru and a campus tour (shame on the poli sci department for taking down Brian’s 1989 student of the year plaque), including a peek inside the Coliseum, which long served as the Huskers’ basketball home, and which was one of the first large on-campus venues in the country. Then after listening to Nebraska’s band rehearse its Tribute to Geeks halftime show (it’s hip to be square, y’all), we made our way into the game.

The game. Yeah, that. You saw it. I don’t need to rehash it. Suffice it to say that after the buzz surrounding the Tigers’ 6-0 start, the subsequent 1-3 stretch has made for a hard come-down. Welcome to life as a Missouri fan. Still, if the Tigers can regroup to beat Iowa State and Kansas, the 9-3 mark will certainly exceed the expectations I brought into this season.

Nebraska Brian was sporting and restrained on the ride back, killing me with kindness, while the Hold Steady provided the soundtrack for the trip home.

When I finally get a chance to watch Friday night’s exhibition basketball game, I’ll have thoughts on it and the coming season.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Going into the red

I'm heading up to Lincoln today for tomorrow's clash for Big 12 North supremacy, so I'll have to watch and comment on tonight's basketball exhibition opener upon my return. I'm traveling with a friend who is a Nebraska alum. I've been promised the full Lincoln experience - the Valentino's buffet, a Runza, etc. - and I'll give a full report in the next couple of days. And here's your good omen for the day: My buddy and I have attended two Mizzou-Nebraska games together, and the Tigers won both.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

This Date in Mizzou History

November 2, 1974: Tiger Tony Galbreath rambles for 194 yards rushing in a 52-15 rout of Kansas State.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

This Date in Mizzou History

November 1, 1969: On a day when Kansas State’s star quarterback Lynn Dickey set a conference record for total offense with 394 yards, it was Missouri halfback Jon Staggers who gave a performance for the ages. Staggers caught a pass for a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a score, threw a touchdown pass on an option play, and accounted for 295 all-purpose yards in a 41-38 victory that lifted the Tigers into a tie for first place in the Big Eight.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hope falls eternal

For some, it’s the blooming redbuds and pitchers and catchers reporting, but for me, the world springs to life when the trees shed their leaves and basketball practice begins. You may find paradise in the left field bleachers on a sunny day. For me, heaven is a warm gym on a cold winter night.

It was with that sense of anticipation that I walked into Mizzou Arena on Friday night for the Black and Gold Scrimmage. I was only able to stay for the first half, so I won’t offer a full report (and anyway, you can find recaps here, here, here and here), but the first thing I noticed was how fast everything moved on both ends of the court. On defense, we saw pressure all over the floor, including an extended, trapping zone in the half-court. Offensively, it was a far cry from the ponderous pitch-it-around-the-perimeter game we’ve seen so much of in recent years. The theme was attack, attack, attack. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was consistently entertaining, and it suits a roster that isn’t exactly teeming with players known for their skills in traditional offensive sets.

There’s little point in judging players based on such a small sampling, but a few things stood out. First, as widely reported, point guard Stefhon Hannah, a junior college transfer, looks like a complete player, and the telepathy that he and Marshall Brown seemed to share in the opening minutes called to mind the chemistry Wesley Stokes and Rickey Paulding knew during their brief time as teammates. Freshman guard Keon Lawrence also turned heads with his ability to get inside the lane, draw contact, and still finish despite his spindly, spidery frame (though Monday’s news that he’ll be lost for several weeks with a stress fracture to his foot is a kick in the gut). When Lawrence first committed to Mizzou a year ago, someone close to the process told me that he was a little like former Iowa State star Curtis Stinson, with a knack for getting past defenders and scoring in unorthodox ways. Keon certainly showed that on Friday night. Mizzou’s other Lawrence, sophomore guard Matt, made impressive use of the most elegant three-point stroke seen around here since Kareem Rush left for the NBA. And finally, junior forward/center Kalen Grimes looks to have dropped several pounds without losing his ability to dunk the ball very hard.

While the conventional wisdom says that this group will struggle in coach Mike Anderson’s first season, for optimists like me, hope springs eternal. The non-con schedule is hardly a murderer’s row, and real opportunity exists for any team in the Big 12’s north. While Kansas should run away with the league – they have more talent than the division’s other five teams combined – there’s hope for any team that can establish itself as the north’s next best squad. In essence, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska are going to play a round-robin tournament, and if any of those clubs can go 6-2 or better against the other four, it could win 20+ games and/or sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Kansas State seems to be the consensus pick to finish second in the north, especially with Cartier Martin back from suspension (and with super prospect Bill Walker potentially joining the team in December), but the Cats have a new (if accomplished) coach and an unproven roster. Nebraska and Iowa State also break in new coaches, and neither boasts a wealth of talent (Iowa State was stung by the early departures of Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock), and Colorado will go through the season with a coach who has already announced his resignation. And though the Buffs return Richard Roby, one of the league’s top players, they lose six of the top nine players from last year’s team. If Mike Anderson’s Tigers can get it together more quickly than the other members of the topsy-turvy north, this season could surpass the guarded expectations of most of Missouri’s faithful.

Random notes: John Cooper was on campus over the weekend, and was honored at the annual Alumni-Faculty Awards dinner. Dr. Cooper, who is 94, won the Big Six scoring title in 1932, and made college basketball history by being the first player to employ a jump shot. After graduating from Mizzou, Dr. Cooper went on to a distinguished career in academia, where he was a pioneering force in the field of kinesiology. . . . I bumped into Gary Link at Faurot Field on Saturday, and though he graduated thirty-two years ago, Link looks like he could still play ball. I bet he hasn’t gained a pound in the past three decades. Gary, who gave me a fantastic interview for my book, is one of the most loyal and enthusiastic supporters of the University I have ever met. . . . I also saw Jim Dinsdale at the stadium, but that’s not unusual; I see him everywhere. Dinsdale, who played for Sparky Stalcup and Bob Vanatta in the early 1960’s, is an ardent supporter of Mizzou, and he shows up at countless events in Columbia and Kansas City. . . . By now, you’ve heard that Red Auerbach died this past week at 89. During his legendary career, Auerbach succeeded at almost everything he tried. One of the few things he couldn’t do was to convince former Missouri star Bill Stauffer to play in the NBA. The Celtics drafted Stauffer in 1952, but military service beckoned. Upon Stauffer’s discharge, Auerbach met with the Tiger legend to try to entice him to Boston. But at a time when NBA paychecks were just a tiny fraction of what they are today, Stauffer was eager to begin his career in the newspaper business, and he politely declined the offer.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Two toes left

A sure touchdown pass dropped. Blam! Interception. Blam! Fumble. Blam! Defensive holding extends a drive. Blam! Punt blocked for safety. Blam! Roughing the kicker. Failure to convert four chances inside the two. Personal foul after a third down stop. Blam! Blam! Blam!

Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen a lot of bad Missouri football teams self-destruct, but I grew numb to it. Watching a good one repeatedly shoot itself in the feet in a winnable game is much more agonizing. I’m making my first trip to Lincoln, Nebraska in a quarter century next week. A victory there would surely ease the pain.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Time to fire this thing back up

Sorry for the long dormancy here. The flu has gone through my house like lightning and I've had some other projects to keep me busy (I've achieved a certain minor fame in Philadelphia, but that's a story for another time). I promise to do better in the coming weeks.

For those interested in getting a signed copy of True Sons, we'll be in the Hearnes Center fieldhouse before the Missouri-Oklahoma football game, at an MU Alumni Association event. Feel free to stop by (and buy).

If I can get to Columbia in time tonight, I'll be at the Black and Gold Scrimmage, and I'll have thoughts about it in the coming days. I'd also be ridiculously remiss not to write some ode to this remarkable football season.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This date in Mizzou history

September 20, 1969: After Air Force takes a 17-16 lead with just 33 seconds remaining in the game, the Tigers scream down the field -- thanks mostly to a 56-yard pass from Terry McMillan to John Henley -- and Henry Brown kicks a field goal to give Missouri a 19-17 victory in the season opener. The Tigers go on to capture a share of the Big Eight title, earning a trip to the Orange Bowl.

This and other stories can be found in Todd Donoho and Dan O'Brien's MizzouRah! As I understand, only a few copies are left, so get yours soon.

Monday, September 11, 2006

So the guy says “I’ll sell you my talking dog for fifty bucks” . . .

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of dining at a table that included, among others, Norm Stewart and ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson. Many stories were told, and up to one-third of them may have been true. We heard what Abe Lemons said to Howard Cosell at Madison Square Garden, the psychology behind Henry Iba’s bed checks, and how Johnny Orr can tell vulgar stories in mixed company with impunity. It was the first time I had met Anderson, who is a terrific guy and a proud and active Mizzou alum. And given that you’re reading this page, I probably don’t have to tell you how cool Coach Stewart is.

The next day, I had the similarly pleasurable experience of seeing the football Tigers demolish Ole Miss. I like this team.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chuck Denny, 1934 – 2006

The Missouri basketball program lost one of its own this past Thursday when Chuck Denny succumbed to ALS at the age of 71. More details can be found here.

Denny arrived at the University of Missouri from Fayette, Mo., as an ungainly six-foot-six center, and he bided his time on the bench behind the great Bob Reiter until his senior year of 1955-56. By then, he had blossomed into a rugged inside presence who would anchor the middle for a team built around perimeter stars Norm Stewart and Lionel Smith. Denny’s career highlights included a 23-point performance in an 85-78 victory at Kansas on February 6, 1956 (the Jayhawks’ first-ever loss at Allen Field House), and a 20-rebound effort four weeks later in a triumph over Kansas State. He closed his career with 23 points in a victory over Nebraska as Mizzou took second place in the Big Seven standings.

The condolences, thoughts and prayers of many Tiger fans are with the family of one of Mizzou’s true sons.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Meet Mike Anderson (and me) in KC

The Kansas City Chapter of the MU Alumni Association holds its annual picnic and auction this Friday, August 25, at the Pavilion at John Knox Village in Lee's Summit. Mizzou head basketball coach Mike Anderson will be among the honored guests, and I'll be there signing copies of True Sons. Always a great event, this year's auction includes several autographed pieces of Missouri basketball, Missouri football and Kansas City Chiefs memorabilia, plus a wide array of other items, from a one-week stay at a Hilton Head condo to the entire sixth season of MacGyver on DVD (and who wouldn't want that?).

Friday, August 18, 2006

If this guy likes the book . . .

"When I was reading this account that has been well documented, it became apparent to me – that even with my age, historical knowledge, and close contact with the Missouri program for 53 years – that the book brings out historical facts, individual situations, and games that I found interesting, amusing, and educational. For instance, did you know that Missouri was judged to be the best team in the country in the days before the national championship was decided by a tournament? . . . The first twenty years gave me more insight into the history of Missouri basketball. From the ’26 period on, it was a renewal of names that I had the good fortune to know. Not just at Missouri, but at the other institutions. Some of those faces I still see and am fortunate enough to have a cup of coffee with on a regular basis. I must admit that with all the enjoyment and appreciation I left a tear on some of the pages."

Norm Stewart, from the foreword to True Sons, A Century of Missouri Tigers Basketball.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

True Sons in Borders Bookstores

I'm pleased to announce that True Sons will be available at Borders Bookstores in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield within the next few days. Central Missouri Tiger fans can already find the book in Columbia at University Bookstore, the Tiger Team Store, the Ninth Street Bookstore and the Missouri Shirt Company, and at the Downtown Book and Toy Store in Jefferson City.

For Kansas City-area Tigers, we'll have the book for sale on Friday, August 25 at the annual picnic and auction of the Kansas City Chapter of the MU Alumni Association. As always, the Master of Ceremonies will by KMBC-TV's Larry Moore, and Tigers head coach Mike Anderson will be there, too. I'll be signing books, and I hope to meet some of you there.

Or you can buy online.

Monday, August 14, 2006

It’s S against the world

After wandering through the alpha-numeric maze of the top 100 players and Mizzou A to Z, I began contemplating how dominant the letter S has been in Missouri’s basketball history. Coaches Stewart (634 wins), Stalcup (195) and Snyder (126) have combined for 76% of the program’s 1,392 total victories, and the Tigers’ six retired jerseys – Stauffer, Stewart, Smith, Stipanovich, Sundvold and Smith – make for an alliterative alliance of All-Americans. Number nineteen in the alphabet, number one in your hearts.

So here’s the unanswerable theoretical question of the day: If I form a team of Mizzou’s past players whose surnames start with S (at the peaks of their careers), and I give you everyone else, who wins a mythical game?

Here’s my starting five: Willie Smith and Jon Sundvold (guards), Norm Stewart and Doug Smith (forwards), and Steve Stipanovich (center). Here’s yours: Melvin Booker and Anthony Peeler (guards), Derrick Chievous and John Brown (forwards), and Arthur Johnson (center). My team’s starters were ever-so-slightly more decorated during their playing days, but your team has the advantage off the bench, with the likes of Ricky Frazier, Al Eberhard, Kim Anderson and Larry Drew. We’re playing one game for all of history’s marbles. Who wins?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

True Sons is out!

It’s my pleasure to report that True Sons, A Century of Missouri Tigers Basketball is out and available for purchase. True Sons recounts the full history of the program, from the formation of the first team in 1906, to the hiring of coach Mike Anderson 100 years later.

Visually, the book is spectacular, which I can say without a trace of immodesty. The credit goes to the editorial and design team of Kathy Sheridan, Lynn Parrott and Scott Rule, who laid out and beautifully reproduced over 300 photos spanning the full century of Mizzou hoops. In the course of writing the book, I collected similar histories of some of the top programs in the country, and none can compare with the look of True Sons.

For those who preordered the book, shipping should start immediately (for those who ordered copies signed by Norm Stewart, those will be shipped as soon as the coach can sign them). It will also be available in the coming days (if not already) at the University Bookstore, the Tiger Team Store and the Ninth Street Bookstore in Columbia, and the Downtown Book and Toy Store in Jefferson City. We anticipate having the book in selected stores around the state in the coming weeks, and I’ll have details as they’re available. We’ll also sell the book at special events (like the alumni association Kansas City chapter’s annual picnic and auction on August 25) and at home football and basketball games throughout the year. For now, though, the easiest way to order is to buy online.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Deadline extended

The deadline for MUAA members to order a copy of True Sons signed by Norm Stewart has been extended to August 9.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Time is running out . . .

MU Alumni Association members who would like a copy of True Sons signed by Norm Stewart need to order before August 1. A great Christmas gift for the discerning Tiger fan.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Tigers A to Z

After the full-out assault to finish the book (it’s at the printer now, thank you very much), I find myself momentarily mentally drained, spent, creatively bankrupt. But regular readers of this page demand content, and so let’s reach into the vault for something I wrote a couple of years back for Tigerboard. Tweaked ever-so-slightly to bring the previous piece up to date, I give you the tops in Missouri Tigers sports history, from A to Z.

A is for Accomplishment, and it’s also for Alternatives. On one hand, we have Ben Askren, an All-American and absolute animal, the reigning national wrestler of the year and the top mat-man in Tiger history. On the other, we have Al Abram, who led the basketball team in scoring and rebounding in 1959, and led a revolution when he broke the color barrier in Mizzou athletics. Askren and Abram share the A for their historic efforts.

Some killer B’s have buzzed about in black and gold, from John Brown and Phil Bradley to Herb Bunker, Melvin Booker, and Chester Brewer, none of whom rate as our next letter carrier. Who could better Booker, Bunker and Brewer? Tom Botts. In 26 years as head coach, Botts led the track and field and cross country squads to ten conference titles and the 1965 NCAA indoor track and field national championship.

Though shot putter extraordinaire Christian Cantwell could chuck him a country mile, C belongs to Derrick Chievous, who scored 18% more points than any other Tiger hoopster. D, on the other hand, demands no debate. D is simply Devine.

E stands for Everything, which is what George Edwards was to Mizzou over parts of five decades. After playing basketball, football and baseball for the Tigers before World War I, he returned to Columbia in the Roaring Twenties and served at various times over 30-plus years as basketball coach, golf coach, tennis coach, assistant football coach, athletics director, sports information director, and professor and chair of the physical education department. That might be enough to warrant two letters but for the immovable object in the next spot. F is reserved for the father, the founder, the favorite son of Ol’ Mizzou. F is for Faurot.

Bruce Geiger merits consideration for our next letter by virtue of playing on the 1961 Orange Bowl champs, and he gains bonus points for allowing me to marry his daughter. But a major deduction for routinely schooling me on my own pool table opens the door for Mel Gray, Missouri’s all-time G-man, a champion sprinter and brilliant wide receiver who starred for years in the NFL.

For anyone who ever witnessed her fluid, explosive grace, there’s no doubtin’ Mary Houghton, one H of a gymnast. Late 1980’s basketball hero Byron Irvin was cool personified, but nothing’s cooler than Ice – Harry Ice – the 155-pound halfback formerly famous for gaining 240 yards on eight carries against Kansas in 1941, but now known as the preeminent I of the Tigers. Keeping up with the Joneses is a popular pastime, but keeping up with quarterback Corby Jones proved nearly impossible. For leading Mizzou’s late 1990’s football mini-renaissance, Jones earns the J.

K is for Natasha Kaiser, a two-time Olympian and six-time All-American sprinter, while L is a toss-up between Kaiser’s teammate Teri LeBlanc, a record-setting heptathlete-pentathlete-sprinter, and Ed Lampitt. We’ll let them wrestle for it, which gives the decisive edge to Lampitt, the grappler who captained Mizzou’s squad to an undefeated 1968 season and later earned a place in the national Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Though he belongs more to Wisconsin than to us, Walter Meanwell – Missouri’s M – won 94% of his games in two championship seasons as Tiger basketball coach, a brief detour on his way to becoming a charter member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. In Mizzou’s sporting history, N might as well stand for Next-to-Nothing. Not a single N in the MU Hall of Fame, nor among all-conference performers in football or men’s basketball. So let’s celebrate the post-graduate achievement of Martin Nash, whose Tiger career (1938 to 1941) was nice enough, but nothing compared to being a member of 1948’s golden U.S. Olympic basketball team.

O! what a quandary! Onofrio, Olivo and O’Liney are obvious options, but we’ll pick a palindrome and go with Otto – not hard-nosed fullback/linebacker Gus, but hard-throwing, hard-hitting pitcher/DH Dave, an All-America player and scholar in the mid-1980’s. In picking a P, we proffer a preference for Anthony Peeler, a pinpoint passer, prolific pilferer and prodigious point-producer who ranks first, first and third, respectively, in Tiger hoop history in assists, steals and scoring.

In Tiger lore, the letter Q hasn’t given us much quantity or quality, just one substantial Quirk – Ed Quirk, our Q – a bone-crushing fullback whose Missouri career, interrupted by service in World War II, preceded four seasons in the NFL. R, on the other hand, is rife with candidates from Andy Russell to Kareem Rush, but none is as synonymous with past glories as Johnny Roland, the do-anything All-American offensive and defensive back from the 1960’s.

A serious question for John “Hi” Simmons, Bob Simpson, Sparky Stalcup, Bill Stauffer, Bob Steuber, Steve Stipanovich, Anton Stankowski, Dave Silvestri, Willie Smith and Doug Smith: Would it be too much to ask for one of you to change your name to Xavier or Xylophone or Xanax? While S presents the deepest field in this whole shebang, it’s also a no-brainer. Here’s the rule. If you’re an All-American basketball player and a national champion baseball player who returns home to coach the basketball team to a boatload of conference championships over a 32-year run, you make the list. The man with the S on his chest is Norm Stewart.

With apologies to superstar swimmer Susan Tietjen and pigskin pioneer Ed “Brick” Travis, the most prominent T in Tiger history isn’t a person, it’s an idea hatched in the diabolical mind of Don Faurot. Our T, the Split T – unveiled by Faurot in 1941 – introduced the option play and revolutionized college football.

Though golfer Stan Utley was utterly amazing and women’s hoops star Evan Unrau was simply unreal, U is for Ray Uriarte, a first team All-American at third base in 1958. And with mid-term elections looming, let’s acknowledge that V is for Vogt, Paul “Deerfoot” Vogt, the high-jumping, high-scoring center who helped lead Missouri basketball to regional and national prominence at the time of the first World War.

W is a paradox in and of itself. One letter, three syllables. And the choice for W’s letterman is no less paradoxical. Gridiron greats Wehrli and Winslow continue to maintain high fame despite being mere consensus All-Americans, while the clear but hardly obvious choice – 1921 national basketball player of the year George Williams – rests in peaceful obscurity.

If Christmas can be Xmas, our X-man can be Pitchin’ Paul Christman – err, Xman – the golden boy of the first golden age of Mizzou football, and the third-place finisher in the 1939 Heisman Trophy balloting.

Who is Y? In the higher-profile sports, the pickings get slim toward the end of the alphabet, thus giving us opportunity to branch out and recognize someone who gave considerable sweat for comparatively little glory, like Margaret Yanics, who all but owned the volleyball record book at career’s end in 1988.

And zowie, what to do with Z? Zig-zagging Brad Zmith? Zharp-zhooting Jon Zundvold? Just in ze nick of time comes freshman pitcher Rick Zagone, who helped the baseball team advance to this year’s NCAA super regional, and who stands to become ze staff ace next zeason for the Tigers of Ol’ miZZou.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006

OT: Oh no he Zididn’t!

As Bill Buckner will testify, legacies can change in a millisecond at fate’s cold caprice. Had Zinedine Zidane’s wicked overtime header in Sunday’s World Cup final sailed just a little to the left or right, it would have skidded past the Italian goalkeeper’s hand and into history. Zizou would have stood as the hero of two World Cups, short-listed for the title of second greatest player ever.

Instead, Buffon’s fist foiled the volley, and minutes later Zidane lowered his stubbly dome and tried to drive Marco Materazzi’s breastbone through his backbone. Now Zidane retires not simply as the player of his generation, but as a much more complicated figure, a great player for sure – World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 cemented his stature – but also the author of the most famous and infamous moment in soccer’s history (you had a nice run, Hand of God, but it’s over now). No one will ever again think of Zidane without thinking of how he lost his cool and his country lost the Cup.

More than just his personal legacy, I can’t help but wonder what Zidane’s meltdown means for American soccer. I’m no soccer die-hard, but I enjoyed this tournament immensely, and it helped expose curious stateside fans to the international game like no event before (the 2002 Cup’s effect was blunted by its wee hours kickoffs, and 1998 was an eternity ago). A dramatic overtime goal could have provided a breakthrough moment for the beautiful game; instead, potential converts saw an ugly and confusing outburst overshadow the event, the kind of thing you’d expect from a Don King Production, not the globe’s dominant sport. And if fence-sitting fans weren’t won over by the World Cup, they certainly won’t be wowed by the middling MLS (I watched part of the Kansas City-Colorado match on Saturday night, and it was an orgy of ineptitude). When Zidane put his head on the ball in overtime, he had a chance to boost the game in the U.S. But when he stuck it in Materazzi’s chest, he just added to the murky confusion that has enveloped American soccer for so, so long.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Twenty-two Skidoo

It’s funny the things you notice after you’ve looked at something a few hundred times. Over the past few weeks, as I pored over proofs for the book (the last step before printing), one number seemed to jump out of every photo. Though I’ve not been sufficiently motivated to do a thorough comparison to other numerals, the number 22 is almost certainly the most accomplished number in Missouri hoops history. Norm Stewart wore 22 as a player in the mid-1950’s, and it was retired in his honor in 2001. In the interim, a slew of stars and charismatic role players donned the pair of deuces to great effect for Mizzou. They include Win Wilfong (who immediately preceded Stewart), Sonny Siebert, Joe Scott, Ray Bob Carey, Dave Pike, Larry Drew, Steve Dangos, Moon McCrary, Nathan Buntin and Lamont Frazier. An awfully impressive group.

Can anyone come up with a number that tops it? Forty-four might be a good place to start . . .

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mizzou Century: The Complete List

Here it is, the full list. As I look it over, I see some things I might change a little, but nothing drastic. And the precise order was never that important to me (Do I really think that Joe Scott was ever so slightly better than Ron Coleman, but not quite as good as Med Park? No, not exactly). The main thing was to stir up memories of some of the best players from throughout the first century of Missouri basketball, and if in the process, some of you learned about True Sons, well, that’s OK, too (the book is about to go to the printer; it should be available in mid-to-late August). This exercise was great fun for me. I hope you've enjoyed it, too.

1. Steve Stipanovich
2. Doug Smith
3. Willie Smith
4. John Brown
5. Derrick Chievous
6. Anthony Peeler
7. Norm Stewart
8. Jon Sundvold
9. Ricky Frazier
10. George Williams
11. Bill Stauffer
12. Al Eberhard
13. Melvin Booker
14. Kim Anderson
15. Larry Drew
16. Herb Bunker
17. Arthur Johnson
18. Charlie Henke
19. John Lobsiger
20. Arthur “Bun” Browning
21. Craig Ruby
22. Kareem Rush
23. Curtis Berry
24. Thornton Jenkins
25. Dan Pippin
26. Byron Irvin
27. Jevon Crudup
28. Kelly Thames
29. Bob Reiter
30. Don Tomlinson
31. Jim Kennedy
32. Clarence Gilbert
33. Marshall Craig
34. Henry Smith
35. Ray Bob Carey
36. Paul O’Liney
37. Fred Williams
38. Rickey Paulding
39. Med Park
40. Joe Scott
41. Ron Coleman
42. Lee Coward
43. Wendell Baker
44. John Cooper
45. Nathan Buntin
46. Norman Wagner
47. Greg Cavener
48. Lionel Smith
49. Bud Heineman
50. Jeff Strong
51. Malcolm Thomas
52. George “Pidge” Browning
53. Clay Johnson
54. Bob Price
55. Al Abram
56. Blaine Currence
57 & 58. George Flamank & Ned Monsees
59. George Bond
60. Brian Grawer
61. Keyon Dooling
62. Albert White
63 & 64. Mike Sandbothe & Greg Church
65 & 66. Derek Grimm & Jason Sutherland
67. Gene Jones
68. Max Collings
69 – 71. Greg Flaker, Mike Griffin & Mike Jeffries
72. Sonny Siebert
73. Jeff Warren
74. Phil Scott
75. Gary Link
76. Jimmy McKinney
77. Charlie Huhn
78. Lynn Hardy
79 & 80. Denver Miller and Kenneth “Duke” Jorgensen
81. Gary Leonard
82. Lamont Frazier
83. Jesse “Mule” Campbell
84. Mark Dressler
85. Dan Bingenheimer
86 & 87. Marvin “Moon” McCrary and Prince Bridges
88. Ken Doughty
89. Thomas Gardner
90. Carl “Curly” Ristine
91. Julian Winfield
92. Win Wilfong
93. Scott Sims
94. Travon Bryant
95. Clay Cooper
96. Gary Garner
97. Tom Johnson
98. Bill Ross
99. Chris Heller
100. Stan Ray

Friday, June 30, 2006

Mizzou Century: No. 1 – Steve Stipanovich

A transformative figure in Mizzou hoops history. Under Norm Stewart’s guidance, John Brown had led a resurgence for Tiger basketball, and Willie Smith had briefly elevated the program to a more national significance. But more than anyone, Steve Stipanovich symbolized the rise of Missouri as a consistent power and a dominant presence in the Big Eight conference. A preternaturally-skilled 6’11” center from St. Louis, Stipo shared his four seasons at Mizzou with Jon Sundvold, the dead-eye shooter from Kansas City, and collectively, their achievement was stunning. They made Mizzou the only program ever to win four straight Big Eight championships, capturing the crown in each year of their careers. They led the Tigers to 100 victories, the best four-year run in school history. And Missouri achieved its first-ever number one national ranking in their stellar junior season. Individually, Stipanovich was a revolutionary player. A powerful post presence with a shooting touch to twenty feet, Stipo started all 31 games as a freshman, led the team in scoring, and was named Big Eight Newcomer of the Year. The next year, he set a school record for blocked shots. As a junior, he made his first All-Big Eight team. As a senior he made his second, in addition to being named Big Eight Player of the Year, earning various first and second team All-America honors, breaking his own blocked shots record, outplaying national player of the year Ralph Sampson head to head, and averaging 18.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. He also earned a spot on the Academic All-American team. At the end of his career, Steve Stipanovich owned the Missouri record book, ranking first all-time in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots (he now ranks fourth, third and second, respectively, in those categories). Truly, a Tiger for all time.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mizzou Century: No. 2 – Doug Smith

A starter and double-figure scorer his first two seasons, 6’10” Detroit native Doug Smith erupted as a junior. In the process of leading the Tigers to a Big Eight championship and the top of the national polls, he was named Big Eight Player of the Year, won the league scoring race, earned second team All-America honors, and blistered Nebraska for 44 points (the second highest total ever by a Tiger). Despite the lure of the NBA – and an NCAA investigation-turned-probation for the Tigers – Smith returned for his senior season and won his second straight Big Eight Player of the Year award and another scoring title (averaging 23.6 points and 10.4 rebounds), in addition to yet more All-America recognition. In his last hurrah, he propelled the Tigers to the 1991 Big Eight Tournament title, capturing MVP honors with 92 points and 30 rebounds in three games, a sweet cap to a season marred by the NCAA's post-season ban. Doug Smith closed his career as the only Tiger ever to collect 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. A truly dominant interior player, Smith ranks second in points scored (2,184) and rebounds (1,053), third in blocked shots (129), and fourth in steals (178) in the first century of Missouri basketball.

Mizzou Century: No. 3 – Willie Smith

Willie Smith enjoyed the most spectacular two-year career in Missouri history. A junior college transfer, Mr. Magic was All-Big Eight as a junior. Then, as a senior, Smith produced the finest individual season ever by a Tiger, and won conference player of the year and All-America honors. Recruited for his defense, in 1974-75 Smith became the first Tiger to score 600 points in a season. The next year, he became the first to score 700, while also establishing a new Missouri single-season record for assists. A left-handed shooting guard, he had range well beyond 20 feet in an age before the three-point shot. In his electrifying senior campaign, Smith led Mizzou to its first conference title in 36 years and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in the modern era. He saved his best performance for last, raining 43 points on Michigan in the Tigers’ heartbreaking loss in the Elite Eight, an effort Tiger fans still speak of reverently. His 25.3 point per game average in 1975-76 is still a Missouri record, and his career average of 23.9 is a full four points ahead of his nearest competitor. The most explosive player ever to wear the uniform.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mizzou Century: No. 4 – John Brown

More than any other player, John Brown elevated Missouri basketball to prominence in the 1970’s. A rare blend of fire, finesse, strength and savvy, the six-foot-seven-inch, 220-pounder from Dixon, Missouri was Norm Stewart’s first marquee recruit and the prototype for so many others on this list – big, skilled, relentless and fearless. The big blond was a power forward with a soft touch, which he demonstrated as a sophomore when he averaged 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds after missing the season’s first eight games with an ankle injury. Fully healthy as a junior, Brown dominated, leading the Tigers to their first 20-win season ever and their best winning percentage in 42 years, as he averaged 21.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and was named first team All-Big Eight. That summer, he earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic basketball team but did not play in the fateful Munich games because of an injured foot. Healthy again as a senior, Brown earned all-conference and All-America honors as he led the Tigers to another 20-win season in their first year in the Hearnes Center. His career averages of 19.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game rank third and fourth, respectively, in Missouri history. Quite simply, a dominant player.

Mizzou Century: No. 5 – Derrick Chievous

A notoriously quirky 6’7” forward from New York City’s Jamaica, Queens, neighborhood, Derrick Chievous was nearly as famous for always wearing a Band-Aid as for being one of the great pure scorers in Mizzou history. Chievous began filling the hoop from the moment he set foot on campus, scoring a freshman-record 32 points against Arizona just one month into his career. As a sophomore, he led the Tigers in scoring with 18.8 points per game, and his season total of 640 points was then the second most in school history. Chievous elevated his game as a junior, earning first team All-Big Eight and second team All-America honors, leading the conference in scoring, guiding the team to a league title, and showing a remarkable ability to get to the free throw line (for his career, he made more free throws than any other Tiger attempted). His season total of 821 points remains a Missouri record, and his three-year total of 1,879 made him the Tigers’ all-time scoring leader with a full season left to play. All-Big Eight again as a senior, Chievous scored a career-high 42 points in a win over Virginia Tech. He closed his career with 2,580 points (still first by a huge margin), 979 rebounds (then second, now fourth), and a career 19.9 points per game average, second only to Willie Smith.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mizzou Century: No. 6 – Anthony Peeler

Perhaps the most dizzying all-around talent ever to play at Mizzou, Anthony Peeler could slash, pass, score and defend the perimeter as well as any Tiger in history. A 6’4” guard from Kansas City’s Paseo High, Peeler was the Big Eight Newcomer of the Year in 1989, as he helped the Tigers reach the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. In his sophomore season, Peeler showed his remarkable versatility, averaging 16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.0 steals en route to being named first-team All-Big Eight. He also became just the eighth Tiger to score 40 points in a game as he drilled Iowa State for 42, including a perfect 20 for 20 from the free throw line. After he lost the early part of his junior season to academics, Peeler returned and averaged 19.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Peeler was even more dominant as a senior, winning the Big Eight scoring title and Player of the Year honors, and leading a group of young role players to the NCAA Tournament. But the most vivid memory of that season came in a loss, when he scored an electrifying 43 points at Kansas. His 1,970 career points rank him third all-time, and he remains number one in assists (497) and steals (196).

Mizzou Century: No. 7 – Norm Stewart

Before his legendary 32-year run as Missouri’s head coach, Norm Stewart was the best all-around player in the first half-century of Tiger basketball, a truly revolutionary athlete who combined interior size with perimeter skills. A 6’5” guard, the Shelbyville, Missouri native was a potent scorer, ball-handler and rebounder. As a sophomore in 1953-54, Stewart was second in scoring on the team to Bob Reiter. By his junior year, he had earned a reputation as the Big Seven’s best all-around player, averaging 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Then, as a senior, he simply exploded. Named to the Helms Foundation All-America team, Stewart set MU records for total points in a season (506) and scoring average (24.1) while leading the conference in scoring and becoming just the second Tiger to top 1,000 points in a career. He also averaged a remarkable 10.7 rebounds from his position on the perimeter. Decades later, Stewart still ranks in the top ten in career scoring and rebounding average. In addition to his exploits on the court (his teams posted the best records at Mizzou in 25 years), Stewart was a pitcher on the 1954 national champion baseball team and later threw a no-hitter for the Tigers.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mizzou Century: No. 8 – Jon Sundvold

Jon Sundvold – a 6’2” guard from suburban Kansas City – became a starter midway through his freshman season of 1979-80 and started every game for the rest of his career. After Larry Drew’s graduation in 1980, Sundvold became Mizzou’s backcourt leader, racking up assists as well as points from his shooting guard position, where he had seemingly unlimited range. Forever intertwined in Mizzou fans’ memories with Steve Stipanovich, his four-year teammate, Sundvold made first team All-Big Eight his final two seasons and was a consensus second team All-American his senior year. In addition to averaging 17.1 points and 3.6 assists in his final campaign, Sundvold hit a 22-footer at the buzzer to beat Kansas State and clinch the Tigers’ fourth straight Big Eight title. Dubbed “Einstein in Sneakers” by former Southern Cal coach Stan Morrison for his genius-level play, Sundvold ranked second on Mizzou’s all-time points and assists lists at the time of his graduation. He still holds records for minutes played and free throw percentage.

Mizzou Century: No. 9 – Ricky Frazier

A 6’6” forward blessed with terrific athleticism and a soft shooting touch, Ricky Frazier transferred to Mizzou after a freshman year at St. Louis University in which he won the Metro Conference’s Newcomer of the Year award. His impact on the Tigers was just as significant. As a sophomore, he started 30 of 31 games, averaged 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, led the team in blocked shots, shot 63.5% from the floor, and helped Missouri win the Big Eight title – a feat the Tigers would accomplish in all three of his seasons in Columbia. Then he improved. First team All-Big Eight as a junior, Frazier led the Tigers with 16.5 points per game and hit the game-winning shot against Kansas State that sealed Mizzou’s second straight league championship. Frazier closed his career in 1982 by winning the Big Eight Player of the Year award, earning third-team All-America honors, and helping Mizzou to its first-ever number one ranking the national polls. His career total of 1,448 points stood as a Missouri record for just one season, but it remained the highest total for any Tiger not to play four years until Kareem Rush surpassed it 20 years later. But the greatest honor may have come from his coach, Norm Stewart, who called Frazier “perhaps the best competitor we ever had.”