basketball Edit

The Pied Piper of Mizzou hoops finally gets his due

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Derrick Chievous arrived in Columbia with a peculiar personality, limitless basketball talent and a Band-Aid. If you were a student at the University of Missouri in the mid-1980s--like I was--you had a front-row seat to the career of one of the most intriguing athletes ever to attend Mizzou.

As the story goes, Chievous was a highly sought recruit from Jamaica, New York. While playing high school ball at Holy Cross in Queens, Chievous sustained a small cut above his eye. Wearing an adhesive strip to protect the wound, he scored 45 points in his next game. The Band-Aid stuck, and a moniker was born. He became “Band-Aid Man.” Most major college coaches had a scholarship waiting for him, but MU Head Coach Norm Stewart had an edge.

Chievous said he wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Missouri’s journalism school was considered the top program in the nation.

“I picked up Derrick when we were on a recruiting visit and we drove to the New York Post,” Stewart recalled. “I walked up to the receptionist and introduced myself as the Missouri basketball coach. I asked her to tell anyone that worked there who had a degree from MU (they) should come up and meet this young man.”

Stewart said 12 or 13 employees with ties to Mizzou came to the lobby to meet him and the 16-year-old Chievous. Each one vouched for MU’s journalism excellence.

“Derrick thought I planted them there before hand,” Stewart said with a laugh. “He thought I was pulling a New York fast one on him.”

Chievous committed to Missouri. A Midwest welcome was waiting.

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Chievous was Norm Stewart's bridge from Stipo and Sundvold to Doug Smith and AP (University of Missouri)

I, too, chose MU because of its prestigious journalism program. Entering the J-School my junior year, I was part of a strong group of aspiring sports broadcasters. Among my classmates were John Anderson (ESPN), Kraig Kann (The Golf Channel, LPGA), Chris Gervino (Tiger Radio Network) and Dave Hunziker (Oklahoma State play-by-play announcer). All of us were engaged in Missouri basketball and its pursuit of a conference crown.

Big Eight basketball was defined by coaches with gregarious personalities and high-profile players. Every team in the conference had one of each. Harvey Grant played for the salty Billy Tubbs at Oklahoma. Mitch Richmond starred for a young Lon Kruger at Kansas State. Jeff Grayer was Johnny Orr’s go-to-guy at Iowa State. Kansas coach Larry Brown lured Danny Manning to Lawrence after laying the groundwork by hiring his father as an assistant coach, and the Jayhawks went on to earn a national title and then penalties from the NCAA. Meanwhile, Missouri had the dean of the Big Eight — Norm Stewart. He was the coach, but on the court, Chievous was the show.

If you never experienced MU’s Hearnes Center at its basketball best, let me set the scene. Empty, it was a drab building with pea green seats and little aesthetic appeal. On game day, it came to life. This was a period of sell-out crowds of 13,300 and a distinct home-court advantage for the Tigers. Each home game, MU supporters Rose Ward and Joey Adams painted and hung banners on the interior walls between sections C and D. They had messages like “Band Aid blasts the Cyclones,” “Tigers Shuck the Cornhuskers” and “Stormin’ Norman will pluck the Jayhawks.” The Antlers were hyper-creative and positioned at midcourt so opposing coaches and players could enjoy their insults. I remember Danny Manning’s father, Ed Manning, catching hell for his previous work as a bus and truck driver. They even had a large cut-out cardboard bus they held up with a picture of Ed in the driver’s seat. Headshots of KU players were in the bus windows.

Norm Ruebling, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, led Mini-Mizzou from the band’s courtside position. Gervino was the public address announcer, and the incomparable Kevin Harlan was teamed with the great Rod Kelly to call games on the radio. Chievous fed off the energy, quickly becoming a fan favorite with his scoring ability, facial expressions and Band-Aids. It became a “Where’s Waldo” type contest to find where he would wear it during each game.

“We all wanted to watch the Band-Aid Man,” said current MU coach Cuonzo Martin, who grew up in East St. Louis. “He was special.”

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Derrick Chievous with Brian Neuner (left) and Mike Devine (Brian Neuner)

The 6-foot-7 Chievous always drew a crowd. Former Missouri assistant coach Bob Sundvold recalls sitting with his family in the food court at Columbia Mall when he noticed a large group of children.

“There must have been 20-25 kids around this guy,” said Sundvold, who is now the head coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “As they got closer, I realized it was Derrick they were following. He had such an infectious personality. People were just drawn to him. The next day at practice I told him he looked like the ‘Pied Piper’ with all those kids following him around.”

It was no different on campus. But he was elusive, kind of like the Snuffaluffagus of college hoops. When you would see him, he would either be with his best friend and teammate, Lynn Hardy, or just hanging out by himslf.

We had a history class together, and every now and then, he would come with me after class to my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. We were building a friendship, but I learned you had to respect his space. He didn’t like a lot of questions, and the conversations were usually concise.

“You guys got a big game tomorrow,” said classmate Jeff Carriger, who was referencing the Tigers’ showdown with Kansas State.

“Somewhat,” Chievous replied.

“If you win, you’re tied for the Big Eight lead,” Carriger said.

Looking straight ahead, Chievous deadpanned, “I know you got that right.”

Carriger was thrilled with the short exchange. That was typical, though. Chievous remained a mystery man to most, picking the moments when he would expose his personality. He would be very quiet most of the time, and then all of a sudden, he would be Flip Wilson-level funny, moving in and of character just like the comedian.

“One time we were at a tournament and Derrick just starts singing,” Sundvold said. “He would start with a Stevie Wonder impersonation and then switch to Frank Sinatra. He sounded like both. He was so talented.”

Missouri fans best chance of experiencing such moments would come on “The Norm Stewart Show” a weekly half-hour program in which Chievous hosted a segment called “Band-Aid’s Court.”

“We wanted to capitalize on Derrick’s personality,” said Ken Dubinsky, who was the show’s producer. “It was the first time we let a player interview another player. He was so creative with his questions that it added a whole different perspective. We would usually tape the segment at a remote location. There was no script for Derrick. He just improvised.”

His improvisational skills were on full display when the Tiger team put together a music video called “The Cats from ’Ol Mizzou.” Dubinsky, along with executive producers Carolyn Hawks and Virginia Stewart, wrote the rap lyrics.

“I don’t think Derrick even read the lines we wrote,” Dubinsky said. “He just started free-styling. His version was so much better than ours. It was amazing how he just kicked it out on the spot.”

Stewart had a formula for his teams, which were often anchored by the best Missouri natives, such as Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold and Anthony Peeler. He would then stretch out his recruiting effort to sign national players to complement that local core.

In 1984, Missouri basketball was in unfamiliar territory. After a string of four straight Big Eight titles and NCAA Tournament appearances, the Tigers missed the postseason. Chievous’ arrival began a new era. Missouri now had a player whose scoring prowess could match any opponent on the court.

“The first thing that comes to mind about Derrick is he was such a great scorer,” Stewart said. “If you got him the ball, he believed he would score, but he also understood he had to get the other four players involved.”

“I don’t recall anyone that evolved as much as Derrick,” Bob Sundvold added. “He could always score, but he improved in the other aspects of the game tremendously. He finished his college career as a complete player.”

Chievous loved to post up with his back to the basket. Once he had the ball, everyone knew what was coming — they just couldn’t stop him. His signature move was a dribble or two followed by a head-and-shoulder fake. If the defender went one way, he went the other, often leaning into his opponent as he drew a foul and completed the shot. He wasn’t a 3-point shooter, but he had more conventional three-point plays than anyone in Missouri history. It helped that he was accurate from the free-throw line, completing 79 percent for his career. His 2,580 career points ranks No. 1 at Mizzou.

“Derrick wasn’t difficult. He worked hard,” Stewart said. “Like all young players, he wanted to grow and get better. He was fun to coach.”

And fun to watch. During the glory days of the Big Eight, Chievous was the centerpiece of some of the program’s greatest regular-season wins. I remember him going head-to-head with Richmond on Feb. 9, 1988, at the Hearnes Center. Richmond, who ended up being the fifth overall pick in the draft that year, scored 18 points. Chievous countered with 26 as the two went back and forth. In the end, Chievous won the individual duel and the game, 79-75. Four days later, the Tigers traveled to Las Vegas to take on Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Chievous announced Missouri was going to Vegas to “shock the world.” The Tigers pulled off the upset, 81-79, giving UNLV a rare home loss at the Thomas and Mack Center. Chievous led the way with 26 points.

“When we were leaving the game, people were yelling at me, calling us names,” Chievous said. “They were really upset, and I realized they must have been all the gamblers who bet against us.”

Personally, this two-time all American has given me many memories. When I was working on a television series about street basketball, Chievous gave me a rare interview in which he opened up about his childhood and the hardships of growing up. He educated me on New York street legends like Herman “Helicopter” Knowings, Connie Hawkins and Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond. Before Nike launched its Air Jordan campaign, Chievous told me about a little known dude from Brooklyn named Spike Lee and his alter ego, Mars Blackmon.

“Do you know? Do you know? Do you know?” Chievous used to chirp when he wanted to know if you understood where he was coming from.

Fifteen years ago I was privileged to be invited to his wedding to Tami, who, to this day, says she has never seen her husband play basketball.

“When we were first married, we started to watch a tape of one of his Missouri games,” she said. “In the first few minutes, I asked him why he wasn’t boxing out on the boards. He got mad and turned off the tape.”

In 1988, Chievous was drafted in the first round by the Houston Rockets with the 16th pick. He played professional basketball in the NBA and Europe for eight years. After his pro career, he returned to central Missouri.

I was coaching a grade school team and occasionally asked former MU players to come to practice and be a guest coach. Lynn Hardy taught ball handling drills, Jon Sundvold installed his “wheel” offense and Chievous taught the kids to play defense. Yes, defense. Surprisingly he wouldn’t let anyone take a shot.

“You have to be able to play defense if you want to be a great player,” he told the fifth-graders.

After practice, I gave the team a little history lesson on their guest instructor. They had no clue he was a Missouri legend, but their parents sure did. I passed out Band-Aids to each of the boys, and they took a picture. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

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Chievous moved back to Columbia after his playing days were over (Brian Neuner)

It’s also appropriate that, 31 years after he played his last game, Missouri is finally retiring the familiar No. 3 jersey of its all-time leading scorer. The celebration takes place Tuesday when the Tigers host the Kentucky Wildcats.

“This is important. It’s a great honor,” said Stewart, whose number is also retired. “It marks a special time in Missouri basketball. I hope Derrick appreciates it and enjoys it. I’m very proud of him.”

For his part, Chievous is downplaying the recognition, saying he’s “still the same guy, just with a different hairline.”

When halftime of Tuesday’s game comes around, the elusive Chievous, who likes to stay off the radar, will once again be in the spotlight in at a Missouri basketball game. As he stands on the floor that bears the name of his former coach, Derrick Chievous will give us the final edition of Band Aid’s Court.