As the Missouri basketball team's bus rolled off campus last
Thursday, the Tigers were watching George C. Scott's
inspirational, blood-and-guts opening monologue in Patton. Coach
Quin Snyder hoped the film would fire up his troops, who have
been reeling since last season over an NCAA investigation linked
to former guard Ricky Clemons. "Patton led the Third Army through
120 miles of a blizzard while thoroughly engaged in battle,"
Snyder says. "I wanted our players to see that everybody has
adversity in life."
Last week Missouri players were bombarded with questions after
charges of academic fraud and cash payments from coaches were
thrown back into the news by the release of the transcripts of
numerous jailhouse phone conversations between Clemons and the
wives of Missouri president Elson Floyd and associate athletic
director Ed Stewart. Clemons, who was sentenced to 60 days at
Boone County jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault
and false imprisonment in June, became friendly with the women
after Snyder asked Elson Floyd to mentor Clemons, and the player
frequently made collect calls to the women (the jail tapes all
calls involving inmates) while incarcerated. During the calls
Clemons said that he was paid by coaches--a charge that he had
initially denied when it first came out last summer. Clemons also
named senior forward Rickey Paulding and senior center Arthur
Johnson as other players who had received money from Missouri
coaches. Paulding and Johnson have denied these allegations.
Although the controversy dogged Missouri all week, the Tigers
played well against No. 17 Gonzaga in Seattle last Saturday
before falling 87-80 in overtime. The loss dropped Missouri (3-1)
from No. 3 to No. 10, but the game was a welcome respite for the
team. "It was good just to go out and play," said Paulding after
scoring a team-high 23 points, including a game-tying
three-pointer with 10.1 seconds left in regulation.
Missouri did receive one tiny piece of good news recently: Floyd
met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis on Dec. 4 and says that
he now feels "much better" about the allegations of academic
fraud, but gave no details. That still leaves open the claims
that Clemons received illegal benefits (money and clothes) and
that he was improperly given credit for classes taken at a junior
college in Kansas in 2002. The NCAA won't release the results of
its investigation until mid-January at the earliest.
Meanwhile, on the court at least, the Tigers look like a
championship-caliber team. Freshman forward Linas Kleiza, who
scored 16 points against Gonzaga, has been a terrific addition to
a solid core, and the team figures to get even stronger when
junior guards Randy Pulley, who had been held out while the
school looked into his eligibility but has now been given the
clearance to play, and Jason Conley, a high-scoring transfer from
VMI, enter the lineup on Dec. 21 against UNC-Greensboro. But
before Missouri can think about making a run at a national title,
it must weather this storm. "Hopefully we'll have closure soon,"
Snyder says. "In the meantime it's my job to help us become
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Kleiza and the Tigers played well against Gonzaga, while allegations by Clemons (inset) haunt the program.
COLOR PHOTO: L.G. PATTERSON/AP (INSET) [See caption above]
1. Louisville's Francisco Garcia is courageous. During the same
week that his 19-year-old brother was fatally shot, the 6'7"
sophomore forward averaged 22.5 points and five rebounds in wins
over Seton Hall and Florida.
2. Notre Dame has a steep uphill climb to get into the NCAA
tournament. The Irish (3-3) have lost three of their last four
games and still have to play home-and-aways with UConn, Syracuse
3. Duke's J.J. Reddick has gone cold. After draining 39.9% of his
three-pointers last season, Reddick has shot 27.7% beyond the arc
and 34.6% overall in Duke's first seven games.