"From Blue Springs, Missouri, Jon Sundvold!" That wasn’t his Hearnes Center introduction; it was the radio call of one of his jump shots. The guy had range.
He also had depth. Jon Sundvold could outthink an opponent, a trait reaffirmed now when you listen to him on a broadcast. How many times have you heard him make a comment and then say to yourself "I’ve never thought of that before"? Happens to me all the time. The "Einstein in Sneakers" tag was apt – after all, the perfect jump shot is a matter of physics – but it was also incomplete. Part physicist, part philosopher, part facilitator, Sundvold could orchestrate the action like few Tigers ever. Ever notice when he calls a game how he rejects the term "point guard" in favor of "lead guard"? That’s what he was. After learning at the feet of Larry Drew as a freshman, Jon Sundvold was the leader on the floor each of his remaining three seasons. Though best remembered as a shooter, twice he totaled more than 100 assists. In each of his four seasons, Missouri made more than 51% of its shots from the field because when he wasn’t filling it up himself, Sundvold was putting the ball on a tee for his teammates. He may not have been the best Tiger on those teams – Ricky Frazier and Steve Stipanovich each won Big Eight Player of the Year awards during his tenure – but Jon Sundvold was the most indispensable. On his way to winning four straight conference titles, he played more minutes than any Tiger ever has.
Indispensable, indefatigable, nearly invincible, and now virtually immortal. Jon Sundvold takes his rightful place in The Rafters.
In the spring of 1979 Mizzou's highly successful, and sometimes outspoken, head basketball coach, Stormin' Norman Stewart, was at his best. He had just announced that De Smet Jesuit High School 6'11" All-State senior Steve Stipanovich would be playing for the Tigers in the 1979-80 season.
The Tigers had finished their most recent campaign with a 13-15 record, though they had finished 8-6 in the Big 8 Conference to tie for second behind 10-4 Oklahoma.
It was Oklahoma's first Big 8 Championship and ended a run of 19 years in which either Kansas or Kansas State had won the title 15 times. The only teams to have wrested the title away from the state of Kansas during that span were Colorado ('62, '69), Oklahoma State ('65) and Missouri ('76).
Despite his most recent team's losing record, and the overwhelming history of Big 8 basketball belonging to the state of Kansas, Stewart made an amazing prediction.
"With Stipanovich I can give the state of Missouri the next four Big 8 championships," Stewart said. Imagine the snark that filtered through the Midwest and across the nation.
Stewart's prediction came true, as Missouri won the next four Big 8 championships and added to a run of 12 years in which a Kansas school only won one championship: kU in 1986. In those 12 years Mizzou won six (1980-83, '87 and '90) and Oklahoma won five ('79, '84, '85, '88, and '89).
But, in this writer's opinion, Stipo was just the main threat among many quality players that Stewart would put into the capable hands of one of the best basketball "floor generals" I have ever seen play the game – Jon Thomas Sundvold.
Sundvold was also All-State in 1979, but played across the state from Stipanovich at Blue Springs High School in the Kansas City area. Standing only 6'2", Sundvold nevertheless brought something just as, or possibly more, important to the Tigers – a highly organized and quick-triggered brain that understood the game of basketball better than most.
Stewart emphasized hustle, defense, and a very structured offense that required each player to be in the right place at the right time. In Sundvold, he found a floor general that played with his head – and all members of the team – fully engaged.
Oh, and did I mention he could shoot anywhere from 30 feet in with deadly accuracy, drive the lane and pull up at just the right time to slip free for a short jumper, put the perfect pass at just the right time in the hands of whatever teammate was coming open, and play flawless defense?
Yes, Stipo made it easy for Sundvold, who made it easy for Stipo, and the two teammates became the only two people to ever play all four years on a Big 8 championship team.
Senior Larry Drew, sophomore Ricky Frazier and freshmen Sundvold and Stipanovich led the 1979-80 team to a 25-6 (11-3) record and a trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
In 1980-81, S&S teamed with Frazier and Curtis Berry for a 22-10 (10-4) record and trip to the NCAA tournament.
In 1981-82, S&S teamed with Frazier, Marvin McCrary, Prince Bridges, Michael Walker, Mark Dressler and Greg Cavener for a 27-4 (12-2) record, the Big 8 Tournament championship and the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
In 1982-83, Sundvold and Stipanovich each were named All-American, and with Greg Cavener, Ron Jones, Mark Dressler and Prince Bridges posted a 26-8 (12-2) record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In their four years together under Coach Stewart (and with some great support from many other quality Tiger players) the duo had a combined 100-28 (45-11) record with four regular-season championships, one Big 8 Tournament championship, and four trips to the NCAAs, including two trips to the Sweet 16.
Each of the two players contributed to all 128 games.
During that fantastic run for the Tigers, Stipanovich averaged 14.3 ppg and Sundvold was 12.5 ppg. Stipo had 1.8 assists per game, and Sundvold had 3.0 assists per game. Stipo shot 53.8 percent from the field, and Sundvold's percentage was 49.3.
Stipanovich was drafted second in 1983 by Indianapolis and Sundvold was drafted 16th by Seattle.
Sundvold played nine years in the NBA for three teams (Seattle, San Antonio, and as an expansion draftee for Miami). During those years, each team made it to the playoffs at least once. Jon played on four playoff teams and, in 1988-89 while with the Spurs, he led the NBA with a three-point season percentage of 52.2%.
Who was the most important? Who can say.
I know this – when the two were on the court, I seldom took my eyes off of Sundvold because even when he did not have the ball, he was actively involved in setting up the action offensively or breaking down the opponents defensively.
A Southern California coach once called Sundvold "Einstein in Sneakers." I think he was much more than that. Einstein was a theoretical physicist; Sundvold was a reality physicist, personally directing the movements of a five-person team operating at full speed while performing a leading role as a member of the team.
It was Norm Stewart's system in the hands of an artist, blending a benchful of athletes into a multi-championship mural of consistent excellence.