Tigers honoring their basketball past to start the present

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Frank Haith and Norm Stewart have shared conversations over the past couple years. Now the two will share the same court.

Haith put together a 20-year reunion for Stewart’s 1993-94 Missouri team that went undefeated in capturing the Big Eight Conference title and finished the season at 28-4. The squad will be honored when the Tigers open the exhibition season against Oklahoma City University at 7 p.m. today at the Hearnes Center, Stewart’s old stomping grounds.

“I wanted to play a game in Hearnes, just to go back there and play one ball game,” Haith said. “We talked about coach’s team, that ’93-’94 team and it being 20 years.

“There’s so many great stories about that team and how they overcame a whole lot. ... To do what they did, it’s a great story. I’m just thrilled to have an opportunity to be a part of something as special as this. I have a lot of respect and admiration for coach Stewart. To have an opportunity to honor him and his team on that day is really, really special for me.”

Missouri will wear throwback jerseys from the 1993-94 seaason, and every member of that squad will be in attendance.

“Usually when you have these kinds of reunions, there’s always one guy or two guys that can’t make it,” Haith said. “We have the whole team and the two managers. That tells you a lot about that team.”

Stewart certainly is grateful for the recognition.

“On behalf of the basketball team of ’93-’94, I want to thank coach Haith, because he came to me, this is his baby, and thank the athletic department and university for recognizing the ball club of 20 years ago and the individuals,” Stewart said. “I’ve heard from a lot of the guys and they’re really looking forward to being recognized.”

Stewart reminisced about a few games that stood out about that special season, citing an early season 120-68 loss to eventual national champion Arkansas, a triple-overtime victory against Illinois and the Elite Eight loss to Arizona in that season’s NCAA Tournament.

“When you ask somebody with some age, it depends upon whether you’re here in a press conference or sitting at a bar, as to what you think about,” Stewart quipped when asked to think back.

That Missouri team was led by All-American Melvin Booker’s 18.1 points per game, and included double-digit scorers in Jevon Crudup, Kelly Thames and Paul O’Liney.

“It’s a group of players that you wouldn’t see them appear on the the top-100 (recruiting) list, some of them not on the top-500,” Stewart joked again, “... but they all could play, and they wanted to win.”

Stewart even compared that team to Haith’s first team at Missouri, the 2011-12 squad that went 30-5 and was upset by Norfolk State in the tournament.

“Small in stature and could shoot it,” Stewart listed as the similar attributes.

Haith reflected on his relationship with the longtime Missouri coach.

“Coach has been a confidant,” Haith said. “It’s just great when you take up a program to have someone that’s meant so much to the university to still be around and support you. That’s what he’s meant to me.”

Haith believes his current squad can learn some lessons from that 1993-94 team.

“I want those guys to talk to our team,” he said. “What those guys went through and what they accomplished, and to handle adversity and get beat like they got beaten and to keep playing — they didn’t lose a game in league play — and they had some tough ball games. There’s a lot you can learn from some guys that have gone through some great experiences.”

The new batch of Tigers will get a little taste of Missouri basketball history.

III

Admission and parking for the game will be free. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and fans will be able to seek autographs from the 1993-94 team near the southwest doors until 6:30 p.m.

The game will be televised on Fox Sports Midwest-Plus (Channel 126 on Mediacom).

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