Before the 2008-09 men’s basketball season, Missouri’s current class of seniors was collectively known by one defining characteristic -- they were the last recruits of embattled former coach Quin Snyder.
Twenty-five wins later, they’re now the class that helped return the Tigers to the national spotlight. No. 12 Missouri honored its four-man senior class before Wednesday night’s 73-64 win against No. 5 Oklahoma.
“As we went through the storms and all the trials and tribulations, I think we made a statement in terms of the brand, the style, what our guys are going to be about, the character they have,” coach Mike Anderson said. “Hopefully we continue to get those kids in, and we’ve got a lot more games after tonight."
Perhaps no senior was more unheralded than the first introduced Wednesday night, guard Mike Anderson Jr. He is just one of only two Missouri players without an individual player profile page in the Missouri media notes.
Anderson Jr., coach Anderson’s son, played the most significant five minutes of his career against Oklahoma, starting for the first time in his career and contributing two steals, an assist and a rebound. His energy helped push Missouri to an early 13-5 lead.
“In the biggest game of the year, one of the biggest games, he comes out and puts on a performance,” coach Anderson said. “His momma’s been getting on me all the time. I want y’all to know that.”
In the Anderson family tree, Wednesday’s game also meant the Mizzou Arena farewell for forward DeMarre Carroll, Anderson’s nephew.
Multiple times throughout the season, Anderson referred to Carroll alongside junior J.T. Tiller as the “heart and soul of the basketball team.” Carroll’s heart and soul were on display in the pregame ceremony, as tears streamed down his cheeks while raising a framed Missouri jersey above his head.
Anderson was asked if he was surprised to see Carroll’s tears.
“Nah, DeMarre’s a crybaby,” Anderson said, laughing. “He beat me to crying, and I get emotional and the tears start flowing.”
In 2004, Carroll was a lanky athlete out of Birmingham, Ala., with a buzzed haircut headed to Vanderbilt. Five years later, he’s now a well-built, dreadlocked senior likely to be named First Team All-Big 12 and finish in the top five in field goal percentage in Missouri history.
Carroll’s time at Missouri got off to an conspicuous start in July of 2007, when we was shot in the ankle outside a nightclub in downtown Columbia.
“Me personally, it’s been an up and down battle,” Carroll said. “When I first got here, the incident of me getting shot to going 16-16 and all that to having a season like this and basically set history going undefeated at home, it caught me emotionally. I don’t want to talk about it right now because I might get emotional again.”
For guard Matt Lawrence, his road to the Missouri record books began as a walk-on, when he passed up scholarship offers to take his chances at Missouri. He was rewarded with a starting spot -- and a scholarship -- by his sophomore season.
Although he’s turned himself into a more complete player and a quintessential sixth man, Lawrence will forever be tied to his 3-point shooting. Lawrence currently sits second in school history in 3-point attempts (563) and third in 3-pointers made (223).
“A lot of (the media) wrote that he couldn’t play for me,” Anderson said. “After a couple of individual workouts, I said, ‘Hey, he’s perfect for what we do.’”
But there’s likely been no senior career followed closer than that of forward Leo Lyons. The Kansas City native’s on and off attitude and performance even earned him the nicknames in Missouri fan circles as “Good Leo” and “Bad Leo,” depending on his output and effort. The result was perceived tension between Anderson and Lyons early in Anderson’s tenure.
“I told him before the game, ‘They wrote it like we didn’t like each other. In fact, I love you Leo,’” Anderson said. “And, boy, you should have seen the smile on his face.”
Lyons was suspended multiple times in his career, once in 2008 for being involved in the infamous Athena nightclub incident and once this season for multiple traffic violations.
“Leo was one of those guys who just needed someone to be there on him and push him to be the best he can be," Anderson said. "A lot of times in his life I guess he’s gone the other way because he took it personally. He needed somebody to really push him.”
But when the game had ended and the curtains drew on the seniors’ final game at Mizzou Arena, they discussed what Missouri meant to them.
“It was really emotional. I can’t blame those guys for crying,” Lyons said. “It’s been a lot of up and downs, but we love this city, we love the fans, and we love everything about Mizzou.”