All senior nights are special. They are all full of emotion. Each class of student-athletes that pass through Columbia accomplish something worth celebrating when its time at Misouri has come to an end. This past Wednesday, senior night at Mizzou Arena fit all of those characteristics, and so much more.
Seniors DeMarre Carroll, Matt Lawrence, Leo Lyons and Michael Anderson Jr. did not have a perfect four years. In fact, for the majority of their tenure they were mocked more than they were loved. The teams they played for disappointed more than they satisfied. If daily headlines were about losing games and not legal issues, it was considered a good day. These guys faced more adversity than most fans realize.
Lawrence and Lyons arrived on campus four years ago under the direction of coach Quin Snyder. They were greeted with Ricky Clemons, NCAA sanctions and the firing of the man who recruited them. Welcome to school.
Carroll and Anderson Jr. rode in on the family caravan a year later. Leading the way was former University of Alabama-Birmingham coach Mike Anderson. Anderson promised an exciting, fast-paced style of basketball. He promised discipline. Mike Alden forgot to inform Coach that Missouri basketball and discipline went together about as well as hot sauce and ice cream.
Tickets to the games were tough to give away. Hundreds of students polka-dotted the student section, sitting quietly for the majority of contests.
The following two seasons proved even tougher than expected. Carroll lost his eligibility sophomore year because of transferring and had a junior year hampered by ankle problems. Lawrence's once deadly 3-point range played hide-and-seek for all of the 2007-2008 campaign. While Lawrence was finding his shot, Lyons was in a constant state of cat-and-mouse with Anderson. Junior seemed to be too small to make a difference in the Big 12.
Anderson's problems were not limited to this one class. Up until this year, Anderson dealt with more arrests than he had scholarships to give out. I'm not a math major but I would imagine that would not add up to success.
Missouri needed a full time-out.
They got one. Out went last year's volatile bunch, and in came six of Anderson's own players. The four seniors quietly led the rest of the team through extensive summer workouts. They bonded, not inside the bar, but on the basketball court. There seemed to be a spark of hope; talk of a NCAA tournament bid gave the Tigers something to shoot for.
Fast forward to Wednesday night. MU entered the game against Oklahoma at a remarkable 24-5, including wins against Kansas and Texas, and was solidly cemented into the national rankings and NCAA tournament field.
So you'll have to excuse Carroll's pregame tears. The polka-dotted student section had been transformed into a sea of gold. Days were bad if headlines were good instead of great. Legal issues had been replaced by the debate of whether the Tigers would get a No. 3, 4 or 5 seed in the big dance.
The win that followed was an exclamation point to what has been a magical, rejuvenating season of Missouri basketball. Wednesday night was not about Blake Griffin, it was about Missouri Tigers basketball.
The water in Carroll's eyes may have blurred them momentarily. But the visions of him and the rest of the Tigers are crystal clear: This basketball program is for real.
Coach Anderson promised exciting basketball and he promised discipline. Missouri basketball and discipline. Ice cream and hot sauce, anyone?