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August 10, 2012

Where are they Now: Pattonville Pair



Two basketball jerseys hang from the rafters in Pattonville High School's gymnasium in suburban St. Louis. Both belong to former Missouri Tigers, two lifelong friends who at one point seemed destined for the same career path.  

The first jersey belongs to Corey Tate, an all-state selection as a senior in 1992. After initially landing at Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo., he transferred to Missouri and grew into a lovable role player with a big, bright smile, best known for slaying Kansas with a memorable game-winning jumper in 1997.  Upon his graduation, Tate wasted no time figuring out his life. He latched on to Norm Stewart's staff as a graduate assistant, and fifteen years later, he's back at Mineral Area College. He's the head coach.   

The other jersey belongs to Brian Grawer, the leader and point guard for a Pattonville team that finished undefeated in conference play in 1997. He idolized Tate after meeting him in junior high school, and he followed in his Mizzou footsteps by helping the Tigers to three straight NCAA Tournaments from 1999 to 2001. Under Stewart and Quin Snyder, Grawer etched his name into Missouri lore as a fierce, indispensable leader. Like Tate, he was a fan favorite. Smart and reliable, he always made the right play, almost as if he were already a coach on the floor.  

So when Grawer took a job as an assistant coach at a small school in Texas after graduating, it appeared he'd take the same track as his idol. He was tailor-made for coaching, and in 2002, the son of long-time Division I head coach Rich Grawer joined Snyder's staff as a graduate assistant. Except unlike Tate, Brian Grawer came back to Missouri's program at the wrong time.  

When he returned to Columbia, Ricky Clemons happened.  

And that's the story of how the man who seemed almost predestined to coach basketball wound up taking an entirely different career path, leaving for good after just two seasons on MU's bench.     

"That situation just wasn't something that was enjoyable for players or coaches, or anybody," Grawer said. "Coaching wasn't something that after three years of doing it, that I fully loved or enjoyed."  

"I can deal with the path my life is on now."  

Grawer couldn't have drifted further from coaching. He's now a salesman at Baxter BioTherapeutics, where he travels across Missouri, southern Iowa and southern Illinois selling an infusion product for a rare pulmonary disease. A decade ago, it would have seemed like a surprising career choice for the quintessential coaching prospect, but his experience at Missouri soured him from the profession. At a very basic level, Grawer likes coaching. He likes instructing, teaching and developing young players, but that's only part of the battle of Division I coaching. When Clemons stepped on campus in 2002, Grawer saw the ugly side of coaching in his very first season.  

There's no sense in rehashing the whole Clemons story- it's a painful memory for any Missouri fan. There was a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, jailhouse allegations of illegal payments from Snyder's coaching staff and a summer ATV accident at the home of the university's president.  

All of it - the questions, the embarrassment, the NCAA representatives conducting an investigation on campus -- occurred during Grawer's two-year stint as an assistant.  

"It was tough. I myself was interrogated by the NCAA," Grawer said. "They interviewed me for an hour, two separate days, and they interviewed the players sometimes for longer than that, the staff sometimes longer than that, too. It was just a different, different dynamic."  

So Grawer, whose father would often come home from Saint Louis University practice drained, stressed and overworked during his childhood, shunned the glory of coaching and settled into a steady sales career and family life. He travels a lot for Baxter, but most importantly, he's relaxed, a feeling his father never got to enjoy during his career.  

"I grew up saying I would never do that to myself," Grawer said, "and I couldn't have done that to our kids."  

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Coaching wasn't for Brian Grawer, but it's a perfect fit for Corey Tate.  

"It's no surprise that he has excelled at coaching," Grawer said. "He has a smile on his face all the time, and I'm sure his players just love playing for him. And the character of the person that he is, it's infectious."  

Tate's early coaching experience led him to a different conclusion about the profession. He learned under Stewart, a Hall of Famer, as a graduate assistant and then joined Mineral Area's staff as an assistant in 2001. In 2004, he ascended to the head coaching position and immediately produced results. He won three conference titles in his first four years, winning 28 games during a banner 2006-07 season to earn him a second straight league Coach of the Year award. He has produced All-Americans and a Division I player in Darryl Butterfield, the tough-nosed forward who bruised his way through two seasons under Mike Anderson at Missouri.  

The Cardinals have fallen on hard times during a recent rebuilding phase with two consecutive losing seasons. Unlike the Division I ranks, however, the junior college level presents a different type of coaching job for Tate.  

"The kids I'm coaching are survivors," Tate said. "It's not that they can't do the schoolwork but for whatever reason, they didn't get it done. They just have to take a different route."  

Tate's position isn't always glorious, but it's steady enough to allow him to spend time with his wife and four children.  In that respect, Tate's job doesn't differ all that much from Grawer, who also has a wife and kids now. The juco level allows Tate to coach at its purest form, away from the bright lights, scandals and rat-race mentality of major Division I basketball.   

"I think those kids that I've coached are really, really special kids," Tate said. "I take a lot of pride in trying to get them to that next level."  

He was never a star at Missouri, but his college career carries a lot of credibility with his players- especially that shot he hit against top-ranked and undefeated Kansas in double-overtime as a senior. It was one of those "where were you" moments, a shot so important and so famous it defined Tate's career as a player. Grawer, then a senior in high school, said he distinctly remembers gluing himself to the television as Tate picked up that loose ball and heaved it into the hoop to send the Hearnes Center crowd into a frenzy.    

"That's the number one thing that a lot of people remember about me but I'll be honest with you, I just remember practices, plane rides, one-on-one time," Tate said. "Good people [at Missouri]. Everybody liked everybody. It's just amazing, all those people's personalities."  

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Tate never directly played with Grawer at either Pattonville or Missouri, but he was briefly on Stewart's staff during Grawer's playing days and often returned home to Pattonville during the summers to work with Grawer.  

Grawer's father also recruited Tate to Saint Louis, but even his close bond with the family could not pull him to the Billikens.  

"B.G. is like a little brother to me," Tate said. "We really did play together… spiritually!"  

Grawer and Tate both still keep in touch with former Pirates' head coach Mark Hahn, and they also bug the new coach - former Tiger Kelly Thames -- from time to time as well. The two best players in Pattonville basketball history form a unique duo, having both played at Missouri less than a decade apart.  

"We were known at the time, and probably still are, as a football school," Grawer said. "So it's kind of bizarre."  

As for the Tigers, Tate is still very much a part of the basketball culture because his school is located in the eastern part of the state. Grawer said he has not met the current MU staff, but he did write a letter to Frank Haith upon his hiring in April 2011.  

He also tries to make the trip to Columbia for a game at least once a year, even though it's not so easy anymore with a wife and kids.  

"You don't realize as a player the sacrifice people from St. Louis and Kansas City make," Grawer said. "Now that I have a family, I have to plan it, like, three months in advance to see if I can get to a Saturday game. You take it for granted when you're in the middle of it, and you don't realize the university has such great support."  

More than a decade has passed since Grawer graduated from MU. These days, he's moved on with his life, even though he still relishes in his accomplishments every so often- like when a Kansas City radio host called him and informed him he was the answer to a trivia question. The man told a surprised Grawer he was the leading scorer the last time Missouri won in Lawrence against the Jayhawks, and with the rivalry on hiatus, "that record will live on forever," Grawer says.    

So will his legacy at Pattonville, along with Tate's. The school recently honored the two players with a ceremony, pulling the salesman and the basketball coach back together for one last hurrah.     

"I'm sure all the kids at Pattonville were like, who the heck are those two guys? I don't think they have a clue who we are," Grawer said.  

Doubtful.

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