Let's pretend for a moment that Norm Stewart never became the Missouri head basketball coach. Let's pretend he never became a coach at all. If he were known for nothing but his athletic exploits, he'd still have a major presence in Mizzou lore. He was one hell of an athlete.
To you, Norm Stewart represents history. But in 1953, he was The Future, the moment when Missouri basketball went from rabbit-eared black and white to 3D Technicolor in Dolby Surround. The moment that strict definitions were abandoned. Words like big and small, guard and center lost their relevance. When the kid from Shelbyville hit the floor, there was a ball, a basket and endless possibility.
Before Oscar Robertson, before Magic Johnson, there was Norm, the best scorer, best passer, best rebounder, best ballhandler around. A 6’5” guard in an era of 6’4” centers, Norm Stewart still ranks in Mizzou’s all-time top ten in scoring and rebounding average, and if assists had been officially kept at the time, he might rank there, too. Twice he led the Tigers to within a whisker of a conference title, smack in the middle of an otherwise fallow three decades of Missouri hoops.
Before his legendary 32-year run as Missouri’s head coach, Norm Stewart was the best all-around player in the first half-century of Tiger basketball, a truly revolutionary athlete who combined interior size with perimeter skills. A 6’5" guard, the Shelbyville, Missouri native was a potent scorer, ball-handler and rebounder. As a sophomore in 1953-54, Stewart was second in scoring on the team to Bob Reiter. By his junior year, he had earned a reputation as the Big Seven’s best all-around player, averaging 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Then, as a senior, he simply exploded. Named to the Helms Foundation All-America team, Stewart set MU records for total points in a season (506) and scoring average (24.1) while leading the conference in scoring and becoming just the second Tiger to top 1,000 points in a career. He also averaged a remarkable 10.7 rebounds from his position on the perimeter. Decades later, Stewart still ranks in the top ten in career scoring and rebounding average. In addition to his exploits on the court (his teams posted the best records at Mizzou in 25 years), Stewart was a pitcher on the 1954 national champion baseball team and later threw a no-hitter for the Tigers.
And from an amusing blurb in the 1956 Savitar:
Norman Stewart pitched a 7-0 shutout over Iowa State in a single game which opened the Big Seven baseball season. … Colorado skied in next from the Rockies and found a blow torch in Norm Stewart who melted all their snow.
He was a good baseball player and an incredible basketball player. He made a difference in the former and defined a decade in the latter. He would score 25 points in a game in February, then pitch a shutout in April. He was one of Mizzou's greatest before he ever even got into coaching.