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The Rafters: Class of 2011 (Vote No. 3)

With the offseason having begun, it's time to once again give reverential treatment to past Mizzou basketball greats.  Voting is underway for the second induction class of The Rafters.  Based on your voting, we will induct five more players next week, one from each of the following tiers:

Tier 1: The Pre-Norm Era (pre-1967)
Tier II: Norm Era I (1968-84)
Tier III: Norm Era II (1984-94)
Tier IV: Norm Era III
Tier V: The 2000s

Voting will remain open for all tiers until the end of the week.

After a step backwards following the departure of Stipo, Sundvold, etc., Mizzou surged ahead again in the late-1980s thanks to unique talents and big-shot makers.  How exactly do you choose just one to rank first?  Do you go with the stopgap?  The scorer?  The transfer?  The Jayhawk killer?  The athlete?  The captain?  The banger?

Malcolm Thomas (1983-85)

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.

Derrick Chievous (1984-88)

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.

Byron Irvin (1987-89)

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.

Lee Coward (1986-90)

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.

Anthony Peeler (1988-92)

Perhaps the most dizzying all-around talent ever to play at Mizzou, Anthony Peeler could slash, pass, score and defend the perimeter as well as any Tiger in history. A 6’4" guard from Kansas City’s Paseo High, Peeler was the Big Eight Newcomer of the Year in 1989, as he helped the Tigers reach the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. In his sophomore season, Peeler showed his remarkable versatility, averaging 16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.0 steals en route to being named first-team All-Big Eight. He also became just the eighth Tiger to score 40 points in a game as he drilled Iowa State for 42, including a perfect 20 for 20 from the free throw line. After he lost the early part of his junior season to academics, Peeler returned and averaged 19.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Peeler was even more dominant as a senior, winning the Big Eight scoring title and Player of the Year honors, and leading a group of young role players to the NCAA Tournament. But the most vivid memory of that season came in a loss, when he scored an electrifying 43 points at Kansas. His 1,970 career points rank him third all-time, and he remains number one in assists (497) and steals (196).

Melvin Booker (1990-94)

Little fanfare accompanied Melvin Booker’s arrival in Columbia. Norm Stewart discovered the unassuming point guard from Moss Point, Mississippi, while recruiting a more heralded peer. Good thing he did, because Booker spent the next four years maximizing his ability as well as any player in the Stewart era. A starter as a freshman, Booker deferred to Doug Smith and Anthony Peeler on the court. But he began to come into his own as a sophomore, averaging 11.6 points and 3.9 assists. With Peeler’s departure after the 1991-92 season, Booker assumed leadership of the team. His 15.8 points per game led the club in his All-Big Eight junior season. But it was Booker’s remarkable senior season that sealed his place among Mizzou’s all-time greats. His averages of 18.1 points and 4.5 assists per game do not begin to tell the story. On his way to becoming the Big Eight Player of the Year and a second team All-American, Melvin Booker imposed his will on each game, hitting every clutch shot in a season that saw the Tigers go a perfect 14-0 in the Big Eight and advance to within one game of the Final Four. Though his career began in virtual anonymity, it ended with Booker ranking among the greats in Missouri Tiger history.

Jevon Crudup (1990-94)

As physically intimidating as any Tiger ever, the scowling Jevon Crudup was six-feet-nine-inches of chiseled granite. A starter from the get-go, Crudup averaged 12.0 points and 7.1 rebounds as a freshman until a broken wrist ended his season after 15 games. The superior defender returned for an outstanding sophomore season in which he averaged 15.3 points and 8.2 rebounds while leading the team in blocked shots and finishing second in steals to Anthony Peeler. He put up similar numbers as a junior, and as a senior he was the powerful yin to Melvin Booker’s fluid yang on the only Missouri team ever to finish a conference season undefeated. His presence made opponents think twice before entering the lane. Crudup’s play was more steady than spectacular, but the numbers reveal that he was one of the best all-around frontcourt players ever at Mizzou – he ranks twelfth in career points (1,498), seventh in rebounds (874), eighth in steals (154), and fifth in blocked shots (116).