Thursday, May 10, 2007

True Sons: Breaking the Barrier

Today's excerpt takes us back a half century, to when Al Abram stepped on to the basketball court and and forever changed the University of Missouri.

It was the start of a long, slow fade for Sparky Stalcup. In his first ten years at Missouri, his teams finished second in the conference five times. But after Norm Stewart's graduation, they would never again place higher than fourth. Though his clubs were not devoid of talent, Stalcup could not match the enormous firepower that found its way to Lawrence and Manhattan. Part of that was due to his personal fabric. When it came to recruiting, Stalcup was ethical to a fault and even a bit naïve to the way the game was changing. He believed to his core that basketball should be just one piece of the university experience. He believed in students who played basketball, not basketball players who dabbled in education. "A school like Missouri will not relax its educational requirements for the sake of getting an exceptional athlete," he said. "The era of the dumb athlete is fast drawing to a close." He abhorred the corrupt recruiting practices that became more prevalent in the 1950s and railed against them. He believed that under-the-table payments were being made to the best big men, the kinds of players that were changing the game. He blamed alumni for brokering deals and blamed coaches for turning a blind eye. He feared for the integrity of the game.