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
One vote is in the books, so it's on to Vote #2 today. Below, you will be asked to rank your top three selections from the selected 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.
Here's where the voting starts getting pretty difficult. Do you go with the All-American center who was the #2 pick in the NBA Draft? The All-American "Einstein in sneakers" guard? The guy who was conference player of the year over both of them? The best pure scorer in Mizzou history? The Jayhawk Killer? Mr. Triple Double? The all-conference bull? The cold-blooded Arkansas transfer? The lanky Detroit mercenary? The explosive transitional JUCO guard? Good luck.
Here are your Tier 4 Nominees:
Ricky Frazier (1978-82)
Steve Stipanovich (1979-83)
Jon Sundvold (1979-83)
Greg Cavener (1981-85)
Malcolm Thomas (1983-85)
Jeff Strong (1984-86)
Derrick Chievous (1984-88)
Byron Irvin (1987-89)
Lee Coward (1986-90)
Nathan Buntin (1986-90)
All blurbs below are from Michael Atchison's True Sons blog, and photos below are from the MU Archives' wonderful Savitar archive. (Though ... no picture of Jeff Strong? Really? Dude averaged over 17 PPG in two seasons in black and gold ...)
A 6’6” forward blessed with terrific athleticism and a soft shooting touch, Ricky Frazier transferred to Mizzou after a freshman year at St. Louis University in which he won the Metro Conference’s Newcomer of the Year award. His impact on the Tigers was just as significant. As a sophomore, he started 30 of 31 games, averaged 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, led the team in blocked shots, shot 63.5% from the floor, and helped Missouri win the Big Eight title – a feat the Tigers would accomplish in all three of his seasons in Columbia. Then he improved. First team All-Big Eight as a junior, Frazier led the Tigers with 16.5 points per game and hit the game-winning shot against Kansas State that sealed Mizzou’s second straight league championship. Frazier closed his career in 1982 by winning the Big Eight Player of the Year award, earning third-team All-America honors, and helping Mizzou to its first-ever number one ranking the national polls. His career total of 1,448 points stood as a Missouri record for just one season, but it remained the highest total for any Tiger not to play four years until Kareem Rush surpassed it 20 years later. But the greatest honor may have come from his coach, Norm Stewart, who called Frazier “perhaps the best competitor we ever had.”
A transformative figure in Mizzou hoops history. Under Norm Stewart’s guidance, John Brown had led a resurgence for Tiger basketball, and Willie Smith had briefly elevated the program to a more national significance. But more than anyone, Steve Stipanovich symbolized the rise of Missouri as a consistent power and a dominant presence in the Big Eight conference. A preternaturally-skilled 6’11” center from St. Louis, Stipo shared his four seasons at Mizzou with Jon Sundvold, the dead-eye shooter from Kansas City, and collectively, their achievement was stunning. They made Mizzou the only program ever to win four straight Big Eight championships, capturing the crown in each year of their careers. They led the Tigers to 100 victories, the best four-year run in school history. And Missouri achieved its first-ever number one national ranking in their stellar junior season. Individually, Stipanovich was a revolutionary player. A powerful post presence with a shooting touch to twenty feet, Stipo started all 31 games as a freshman, led the team in scoring, and was named Big Eight Newcomer of the Year. The next year, he set a school record for blocked shots. As a junior, he made his first All-Big Eight team. As a senior he made his second, in addition to being named Big Eight Player of the Year, earning various first and second team All-America honors, breaking his own blocked shots record, outplaying national player of the year Ralph Sampson head to head, and averaging 18.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. He also earned a spot on the Academic All-American team. At the end of his career, Steve Stipanovich owned the Missouri record book, ranking first all-time in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots (he now ranks fourth, third and second, respectively, in those categories). Truly, a Tiger for all time.
Jon Sundvold – a 6’2” guard from suburban Kansas City – became a starter midway through his freshman season of 1979-80 and started every game for the rest of his career. After Larry Drew’s graduation in 1980, Sundvold became Mizzou’s backcourt leader, racking up assists as well as points from his shooting guard position, where he had seemingly unlimited range. Forever intertwined in Mizzou fans’ memories with Steve Stipanovich, his four-year teammate, Sundvold made first team All-Big Eight his final two seasons and was a consensus second team All-American his senior year. In addition to averaging 17.1 points and 3.6 assists in his final campaign, Sundvold hit a 22-footer at the buzzer to beat Kansas State and clinch the Tigers’ fourth straight Big Eight title. Dubbed “Einstein in Sneakers” by former Southern Cal coach Stan Morrison for his genius-level play, Sundvold ranked second on Mizzou’s all-time points and assists lists at the time of his graduation. He still holds records for minutes played and free throw percentage.
One of the most versatile big men ever at Mizzou, Springfield’s 6’9” Greg Cavener recorded the only triple-double in the first century of Missouri basketball, a 16-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist effort against Wisconsin-Green Bay early in the 1983-84 season. As a freshman, Cavener was a reserve on the 1982 Big Eight championship team. The next year, he started all 34 games to help the Tigers to their fourth straight title, averaging nearly 11 points and 9 rebounds per contest. After the graduations of Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold, Cavener became a leader for Norm Stewart’s teams in his junior and senior years. He continued to fill all the columns in the box score and graduated with some remarkable personal numbers: 1,097 points, 894 rebounds (sixth all-time), 322 assists (eleventh), 69 blocked shots (ninth), and a 54.8% field goal percentage (sixth).
The national junior college player of the year at Moberly Community College, 6’7” forward Malcolm Thomas arrived at the University of Missouri in 1983, just after Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold departed the program. Asked to help carry the team in the long shadows of such legendary players, Thomas immediately became Mizzou’s go-to guy, averaging 16.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Thomas was even better as a senior, earning first-team All-Big Eight honors while leading the Tigers with 17.4 points per contest.
A high-scoring guard, Jeff Strong came to Mizzou in 1984 after two seasons in junior college. Asked to play both backcourt positions, Strong was a star player in a transitional era, bridging the gap between the Stipo/Sundvold years and the late-1980’s success of teams led by Derrick Chievous. Strong made a statement just weeks into his Tiger career, scoring 24 points in shocking win over seventh-ranked North Carolina in the championship game of the Hawaii Pacific Invitational. He averaged 16.8 points on the year and helped Missouri earn an invitation to the NIT after a year’s absence from post-season play. As a senior, Strong lost the early part of his season to a stress fracture in his foot, but he returned and scored 18.5 points per game to lead the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.
A notoriously quirky 6’7” forward from New York City’s Jamaica, Queens, neighborhood, Derrick Chievous was nearly as famous for always wearing a Band-Aid as for being one of the great pure scorers in Mizzou history. Chievous began filling the hoop from the moment he set foot on campus, scoring a freshman-record 32 points against Arizona just one month into his career. As a sophomore, he led the Tigers in scoring with 18.8 points per game, and his season total of 640 points was then the second most in school history. Chievous elevated his game as a junior, earning first team All-Big Eight and second team All-America honors, leading the conference in scoring, guiding the team to a league title, and showing a remarkable ability to get to the free throw line (for his career, he made more free throws than any other Tiger attempted). His season total of 821 points remains a Missouri record, and his three-year total of 1,879 made him the Tigers’ all-time scoring leader with a full season left to play. All-Big Eight again as a senior, Chievous scored a career-high 42 points in a win over Virginia Tech. He closed his career with 2,580 points (still first by a huge margin), 979 rebounds (then second, now fourth), and a career 19.9 points per game average, second only to Willie Smith.
A 6’5” swingman who transferred to Missouri from Arkansas, Byron Irvin joined the Tigers in 1987-88 as a junior, and took some time to find his way while playing alongside senior Derrick Chievous, the Tigers’ all-time leading scorer. Once he got his feet wet, Irvin came through in style, scoring 24 in a victory over 10th-ranked Iowa State, and hitting the game-winning free throws at seventh-rated UNLV after Chievous fouled out. Irvin averaged 12.9 points per game on the season, second on the team. As a senior, he was the dominant player on one of the most talented Tiger teams ever. On a squad that included Doug Smith, Anthony Peeler, Lee Coward, Nathan Buntin, Gary Leonard, Greg Church and Mike Sandbothe (among others), Irvin led Mizzou through a wild season that saw coach Norm Stewart leave the team at mid-year to battle cancer. Irvin’s finest performance came on February 25, 1989, sixteen days after Stewart collapsed on the way to a game at Oklahoma. In the rematch in Columbia, Irvin recorded 34 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists to propel the Tigers to a 97-84 triumph over the top-ranked Sooners, Missouri’s first-ever win over a number one ranked team. Irvin averaged 19.7 points per game on the year and earned a spot on the All-Big Eight team.
A ferocious point guard from Detroit, Lee Coward wrote himself into Missouri lore as a freshman, twice beating Kansas on buzzer-beating jump shots, first in Columbia and again in the finals of the Big Eight Tournament. A solid scorer, distributor and defender, Coward contributed to four NCAA Tournament teams and two conference champions (1987 and 1990). Though he was a complementary scorer on teams with stars like Derrick Chievous, Byron Irvin and Doug Smith, Coward still managed to accumulate 1,273 career points, and his 431 career assists rank fourth in school history.
A 6’9” forward from Detroit, Nathan Buntin cracked Missouri’s lineup early in his freshman season and helped the Tigers to a surprising Big Eight title, his 11.8 points per game ranking second on the team only to Derrick Chievous. Though his role diminished somewhat over the next two seasons, Buntin came back with a vengeance in his senior year. Early that season, he produced 24 points and 15 rebounds in a win at seventh-ranked Arkansas. Later, he scored 22 points as Mizzou beat top-ranked Kansas and ascended to number one in the polls for the first time in eight years. For the season, he averaged 14.8 points and 9.5 boards per game as the Tigers took yet another league crown. Buntin finished his career with 1,308 points and 727 rebounds.