What Just Happened? Vol. 81
The Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Blues and Kansas City Royals have all ended championship droughts of at least three decades within the last five years. That’s made for a lot of happy tears and now-I-can-die-in-peace declarations from fans in the Show-Me State.
For the state’s flagship university, though, there is no end in sight to a drought that dates back 55 years to the last championship. That one was in indoor track, which isn’t even the version of track that track fans care about.
But keep in mind that you, as a Mizzou fan, aren’t suffering indignities, you’re developing a deep bench of colorful stories. These will authenticate you as a true fan and add perspective to the experience when the Tigers finally win it all, unless you are currently in your 90s, in which case the actuarial tables are not in your favor and you are probably just suffering indignities. I recommend all nonagenarians stop watching Missouri basketball games for the rest of the season.
I devoted a combined four hours in the last week to games Missouri lost to South Carolina and Texas A&M by a total of 39 points. In 2020, the Tigers are 0-6 in road games with an average margin of defeat of 19.2 points. They have ceased to be competitive outside of Mizzou Arena.
As someone with experience being unathletic — real recognize real — I think the biggest problem for the Missouri basketball team is its players are far less explosive than the competition. The Tigers are the right size and shape, but they are way less athletic than even average SEC opponents like Texas A&M. Other than Xavier Pinson and Jeremiah Tilmon — on the rare occasions when he’s on the floor — Missouri’s players are more likely to be the dunkee than the dunker.
The disparity is most obvious with MU’s wing players, who struggle to get into the paint and don’t want to be there when they do. Their reluctance is no doubt a result of having too many of their shots blocked. In SEC play, opponents have swatted 52 Missouri shots — nearly six per game — which is twice the Tigers’ total. No wonder Mizzou players settle for so many deep 3-pointers.
It would be fine if they made them. They do not.
It’s hard to point the finger of blame anywhere but Cuonzo Martin for constructing a roster with so many grinders and so few elite athletes. Missouri would probably be a perfectly fine team in a mid-major conference but it is outgunned in the SEC. Just keep telling yourself that someday you’ll look back on this and have another anecdote to tell at your Final Four party — if you live that long.
Something good happened!
Eli Drinkwitz blurted out “Oh my God!” and embarked on a meandering hug-filled journey through the office. They don’t play college football games in February, so recruiting wins are the only ones available, and Missouri’s new coach deserved to celebrate after beating Alabama and Texas for the signature of cornerback Ennis Rakestraw of Duncanville, Texas.
Winning a recruiting battle against Alabama is a big deal and so is pulling a Texas native away from the Longhorns. It was a needed boost for a recruiting class that suffered because of NCAA restrictions and a coaching change. Missouri lagged well behind the five SEC East teams whose classes ranked in the top 25 of the Rivals national rankings.
For Drinkwitz, who arrived without much of a track record, it’s an early sign that he can sell his vision and close the deal on an important recruit. And that video showed he has a fiery competitive streak under that assistant principal exterior.
There are miles to go before Missouri’s coaches are the equal of their SEC peers as talent collectors — they might not ever get there in the recruiting rankings — but they played with the big boys and won this battle.
Some closing thoughts on recruiting coverage
I enjoyed reading Pete Scantlebury’s column on his memories of how recruiting coverage worked when he started in 2009. When I started covering Missouri football in 1996, dealing with recruiting was the worst part of my newspaper job. Well, making about $20,000 a year was also pretty bad, since that barely covered my Taco Bell and Skip’s Place habits, so I would say covering recruiting for almost no money was the worst part of the job.
Back then, the process began the Monday after the regular season, or, as it was known at the time, the whole season, because the Tigers were finishing up a 13-year bowl drought. The first step was to call a few recruiting-obsessed super fans who talked to Missouri’s assistant coaches. They knew enough names of targeted recruits to get me started. This information seemed like a gift but was actually a high-interest loan.
I would begin the day by going to the office and calling the high schools of these players and leaving messages for their coaches. I would sit next to the phone for eight hours. Occasionally the phone would ring, and I would get excited, but it would be one of the recruiting-obsessed super fans asking if I had found out any news about those recruits he had mentioned. A few hours would pass. Then the phone would ring again, and it would be the other recruiting-obsessed super fan wondering if I had learned any news. Sometimes recruiting-obsessed super fans who hadn’t given me any info in the first place would call, and those were the worst letdowns of all.
To the high school coaches I was constantly calling, I was the recruiting-obsessed super fan. So there was a whole ecosystem of people dependent upon and frustrated with one another. The only people who escaped unscathed were the recruits themselves, as most reporters only called them after they committed.
Once in a while, I would catch an unfortunate high school coach on the phone during his planning period. I would squeeze a few quotes out of him, which would find their way into the paper and repeated back to the recruiting-obsessed super fans when they called so we had something to talk about. The most productive days were Mondays, because the coaches of athletes who had committed over the weekend were only too happy tell every reporter the news so the incessant phone calls would stop.
This went on for two months. It convinced me of two things: No. 1, my dread of cold-calling and rejection meant I had no future in telemarketing, although that job probably paid better than mine. No. 2, I knew someone really ought to invent social media so all these teenage recruits could let the world know what they’re thinking and leave me out of it.