As the Mizzou offseason begins, it's time to give the same reverential treatment to past Mizzou basketball players as we gave to football players with last year's Wall of Excellence idea (the second Wall class is coming soon, by the way). So say hello to The Rafters. Based on your voting, we will induct five players into the first Rafters class, one from each of the following tiers:
Tier 1: The RMN era (2007-present)
Tier 2: The rest of the 2000s (2000-06)
Tier 3: The 1990s (1990-99)
Tier 4: The 1980s (1980-89)
Tier 5: The 1970s and Earlier
Does this, like our Wall of Excellence, skew toward recent history? Yeah. But this isn't a poll to choose the five best Mizzou players of all-time (there's no point to that anyway -- Michael Atchison already created the definitive list) -- it is an attempt to recognize both the present and past in a way that generates conversation for RMN readers.
Over the next five days, we will ask you to fill out forms like the one at the bottom of this post. You will be asked to rank your top three selections from a given tier. First place will be given five points, second place will be given three points, and third place will be given one point. Whoever receives the most points is the winner from that tier.
We start with what is by far the biggest pool of players, Tier 5: The 1970s and Earlier. Below are ten nominees from this period, ordered from most recent to least:
Willie Smith (1970s)
John Brown (1970s)
Al Eberhard (1970s)
Norm Stewart (1950s)
Bill Stauffer (1950s)
Charlie Henke (1950s)
John Lobsiger (1930s)
George Williams (1920s)
Herb Bunker (1920s)
Arthur "Bun" Browning (1920s)
(Why no Kim Anderson, Larry Drew, or other recognizable stars from the 1970s? Because we wanted to make sure to include stars from throughout Mizzou's history, including those from the 1950s and arguably Mizzou's single most successful era -- the late-1910s and early-1920s. Bunker and Browning might not be as recognizable, but they were as or more successful. If you want to vote for someone not on this list, go ahead and leave your top three in the comments section below, specifying that you have an "Other" in there.)
Break out your copy of True Sons, or read the bios after the jump (culled from Atchison's corresponding True Sons blog), and make your selections at the bottom of this post. Hopefully this will be a fun experience for both sharing your opinions on Mizzou's great players and learning about some of Mizzou's great players.
Willie Smith enjoyed the most spectacular two-year career in Missouri history. A junior college transfer, Mr. Magic was All-Big Eight as a junior. Then, as a senior, Smith produced the finest individual season ever by a Tiger, and won conference player of the year and All-America honors. Recruited for his defense, in 1974-75 Smith became the first Tiger to score 600 points in a season. The next year, he became the first to score 700, while also establishing a new Missouri single-season record for assists. A left-handed shooting guard, he had range well beyond 20 feet in an age before the three-point shot. In his electrifying senior campaign, Smith led Mizzou to its first conference title in 36 years and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in the modern era. He saved his best performance for last, raining 43 points on Michigan in the Tigers’ heartbreaking loss in the Elite Eight, an effort Tiger fans still speak of reverently. His 25.3 point per game average in 1975-76 is still a Missouri record, and his career average of 23.9 is a full four points ahead of his nearest competitor. The most explosive player ever to wear the uniform.
More than any other player, John Brown elevated Missouri basketball to prominence in the 1970’s. A rare blend of fire, finesse, strength and savvy, the six-foot-seven-inch, 220-pounder from Dixon, Missouri was Norm Stewart’s first marquee recruit and the prototype for so many others on this list – big, skilled, relentless and fearless. The big blond was a power forward with a soft touch, which he demonstrated as a sophomore when he averaged 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds after missing the season’s first eight games with an ankle injury. Fully healthy as a junior, Brown dominated, leading the Tigers to their first 20-win season ever and their best winning percentage in 42 years, as he averaged 21.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and was named first team All-Big Eight. That summer, he earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic basketball team but did not play in the fateful Munich games because of an injured foot. Healthy again as a senior, Brown earned all-conference and All-America honors as he led the Tigers to another 20-win season in their first year in the Hearnes Center. His career averages of 19.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game rank third and fourth, respectively, in Missouri history. Quite simply, a dominant player.
Strong as a horse, smart as a whip, bigger than most, but small for his position, hard-working Al Eberhard helped power the Tigers to their first two 20-win seasons. He also combined with John Brown to give Mizzou its best frontcourt tandem in decades, maybe ever. As a sophomore, Eberhard established himself as a force, earning the first of his three MVP trophies at the Big Eight Holiday Tournament (he scored 33 to help defeat Kansas State in the final) and finishing second on the team in scoring and rebounding behind Brown. Big Al (he stood 6’5" but defended men a half-foot taller) was even better as a junior, averaging 17.0 points and 9.3 rebounds. As a senior, Eberhard stepped out of the departed Brown’s shadow. He was named first team All-Big Eight while averaging 19.7 points and 12.0 rebounds per contest. With 16.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game (third-best all-time), Eberhard is one of only four Tigers ever to average a career double-double.
Charlie Henke, a 6’7" center from Malta Bend, Missouri, surely would enjoy greater stature in the memories of Tiger fans had he played on better teams (Mizzou compiled a 29-45 record during his career, which spanned from 1958-59 to 1960-61). After a solid sophomore year, Henke dominated in his final two seasons. A two-time All-Big Eight first team choice, Henke led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding as a junior (19.3 points, 11.5 rebounds per game), and was second in the conference scoring race to Wayne Hightower of Kansas. He was even better as a senior, winning the league scoring title (Hightower finished second). In the process, Henke established new Missouri season records for points (591) and scoring average (24.6 ppg, now second all-time), and passed Bob Reiter to become the Tigers’ all-time leading scorer with 1,338 career points. (he currently ranks 18th) He is one of only two Tigers who rank in the top five in career scoring average (18.1 ppg) and career rebounding average (9.8 rpg).
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.
Bill Stauffer, a 6’4" guard-turned-center from Maryville, Missouri, was the best rebounder in Missouri Tiger history. Despite typically facing larger opponents, Stauffer led Mizzou in rebounding in all three of his varsity seasons, and his per game averages in his junior and senior years (14.9 and 16.5, respectively) ranked first and second in Missouri’s first century of basketball. His career average of 13.6 rebounds is nearly two per game more than his closest competitor. In addition to rebounding, Stauffer developed into a prolific scorer, setting a Tiger season record as a senior with 368 points, and a career record with 807 points in 72 games, an average of 11.2 per contest. Stauffer twice made the All-Big Seven team, and earned All-America recognition for his play in the 1951-52 season. He then became the first Tiger to be drafted into the NBA when the Boston Celtics selected him in 1952. Stauffer, however, never played for the Celtics. Instead, a higher duty called, and he turned the Andrews Air Force base team into the world’s best military squad. His 43 was the first basketball number to be retired by Mizzou, and he remains one of only six Tigers to receive that honor.
Gary, Indiana’s John Lobsiger was the finest player in the twenty seasons that George Edwards led the Missouri program (1926-46). The rough equivalent of a modern point guard, the 6’3" Lobsiger made potent use of a one-handed set shot and guided Missouri’s offense with his superior ball handling and passing. All-Conference and All-America each of his final two years, Lobsiger captained the Tigers to shares of the Big Six crown in 1939 and 1940 – their last league titles for 36 years.
Younger brother of George "Pidge" Browning (number 52 on the list), Arthur "Bun" Browning played sparingly as a sophomore, but he dominated the next two seasons, earning All-America acclaim each year on teams that posted a cumulative 31-4 record. The Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer with a 15 points per game in 1923, Bun’s shooting ability was the stuff of legend. He was known to make shots from mid-court that "dropped through the net without getting on familiar terms with the ring." With that kind of touch, Browning was especially valuable at a time when one player was allowed to shoot all his team’s free throws. Perhaps the finest forward in the Valley’s first 20 years.
One of the true giants of Missouri athletics. In addition to being Mizzou’s only three time basketball All-American, Herb Bunker is one of only two Tiger student-athletes ever to letter in four sports (basketball, football, baseball, track and field). Though not much of a scorer, the massive Bunker (an offensive and defensive lineman for the football team) was a stellar defender and a peerless rebounder who played for the 1921 and 1922 Missouri Valley champs, teams rated as the nation’s best by at least one historian. Known for his gentlemanly demeanor, the native of Nevada, Missouri, went on to earn a Ph. D. and lead the MU Physical Education Department for years. He is enshrined in the Helms Basketball Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the University of Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame.
George Williams, the big center ironically nicknamed "Shorty," remains the only player in Missouri history to be named national player of the year, an award bestowed on him by the Helms Foundation for his play in the 1920-21 season. Williams, who also collected All-America honors for 1919-20, starred for conference champions in both of his years on the varsity as the Tigers posted a cumulative 34-2 record. Regarded as the finest center in the early years of the Missouri Valley, Williams led the conference in scoring in 1921 at 17.2 points per game. The 311 points he tallied that year stood as a Missouri single-season record for over 30 years. After leaving Mizzou, Williams led two different teams to AAU national championships, and earned places on three AAU All-Tournament teams. Truly one of the era’s great players.
Results will be revealed next week.