Column: Seniors contribute with character

With 35 seconds left against Centenary, a free throw extended the men's basketball team's lead to 26 points.

Some may call this insignificant. Senior Jake Jackson calls it the highlight of his career.

"Just being able to contribute on the court felt great," Jackson said about the only point he ever scored as a Tiger.

There are not too many Jake Jackson jerseys floating around Columbia. Kids don't grow up idolizing the guys who only get off the bench to high-five their teammates. People would rather watch an intrinsically gifted athlete like Randy Moss make super-human plays than acknowledge hard work.

Maybe that's the problem with sports today.

There are several aspects of a person's character that are not found in box scores, and those who attended the MU-KU basketball game Sunday gave long overdue praise to three people who embody them.

If you have kids that you want to teach about dedication, hard work and perseverance, tell them about the 2002-2003 men's basketball team's senior class.

Tell them about Rob Stewart. Stewart first tried out for the team in 1998 when another Stewart, Norm, still patrolled the sidelines. With the exception of 2000, when he was sidelined by an injury, Stewart has tried out every year since. This season, Stewart finally got a call from an assistant following tryouts and was invited to practice with the team for a week.

Stewart said his first practice was an important accomplishment.

"When I got my practice jersey, I pretty much felt like I got my goal," Stewart said.

He did not stop there, however, as he went on to earn a permanent spot on the team and see action in multiple games this season.

Tell them about Ryan Kiernan. After playing his freshman season at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Kiernan gave up his scholarship and transferred to MU to pursue his black and gold dreams. After participating in walk-on tryouts before the 1999-2000 season, Kiernan became a student manager.

He practiced with the team late in that season and earned a roster spot for the next. After seeing only 19 minutes of playing time his first two seasons, coach Quin Snyder rewarded his hard work with a scholarship.

Kiernan said hard work is a value his parents instilled in him and he believes it is important.

"I'm just trying to live my life to a certain standard," Kiernan said.

Tell the kids about Jackson. Jackson also began his career at MU as a student manager following walk-on tryouts. After joining the Tigers in Winter Semester 2001, Jackson tore the same ligament in his knee twice. He spent the entire 2001-2002 season rehabilitating it before actually getting on the floor this season.

Stewart, Kiernan and Jackson's final game in the Hearnes Center may not have gone exactly how they planned. None of them played, and the Tigers fell short against the Jayhawks.

However, no loss or lack of playing time can take away from the accomplishments of three men who began as dreaming Tiger fans and became Tigers.

"To me, it still was a storybook ending," Jackson said.

This is one storybook that we should make sure gets passed along to the next generation.

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