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Former Bulls announcer Tom Dore talks about his Missouri playing days

Tom Dore played for Norm Stewart and Mizzou Basketball in the late-1970s before taking on a long career as a broadcaster. He worked college basketball games for Missouri, Texas, SMU, and others before joining the Chicago Bulls’ broadcasting crew for nearly 20 years. He was kind enough to chat with us recently.

Raggs: From looking at the rosters, you played at Mizzou from 1977 to 1980.

Dore: Yes, I was a redshirt in ’76 and then I played there from '77 through ’80.

R: What was the deciding factor that led you to Missouri?

D: Norm (Stewart). By the time he came to recruit me, I was already being recruited by John Wooden, Dean Smith and Bob Knight. Norm looked me in the eyes and said, “There’s a lot of places telling you that you’re going to start, that they’re going to give you all kinds of stuff like cars and trips for your family” -- and there were. But he said, “I’m going to work your ass off. I’m not going to promise you you’re ever going to play, and if you make a mistake I’m going to make you regret it, but I’m going to teach you how to be a professional athlete and how to be ready to be a man.” And that resonated with me.

Even though I loved Norm and his recruiting pitch, I initially started out at Davidson College because it was a little bit smaller and I thought I’d get more individual attention. Then they fired the coach that I loved and I called Norm right away and found out how great of a school Missouri is.

It’s a wonderful campus with great places to go and things to do, but it’s the people at Missouri and in Columbia that, to me, just stand out and make such a difference. That all came together and I came to Missouri.

R: People say Norm Stewart was a hard-nosed guy, a real straight shooter. So can you describe what was it like to play for him?

D: Well Norm is a hard ass. Don’t let anybody sugar coat it. And I love him, absolutely love him, but that first year, especially my redshirt year was really hard. I was the lowest of the low; whatever needed to be done is what I was going to go do. He made it clear from the start that this is exactly what your role is going to be, so I didn’t really question it.

That first year was really tough trying to learn the offense that the Bulls ran forever and that Phil Jackson is a big proponent of, Tex Winter’s triangle offense, so that’s what we ran. It was tough, but learning the offense and, I think, having that redshirt year really helped me because I got the opportunity to come in and not have a lot of pressure to play. I could make some mistakes because I was on a scout team. They weren’t too worried about what I did on a daily basis.

I got to prepare my body, which was the bigger deal.

R: So the farthest you made it at Missouri as far as tournament play was to the Sweet 16, correct?

D: Yeah, the team we lost to [in the Sweet 16 in 1980], LSU? They stalled the whole second half. They went to the four corners; I sure wish the shot clock was in play back then but it wasn’t so they were able to stall. They stalled the whole second half and we got beat by 5 or 6.

R: As great of a coach as Norm Stewart was, you guys were never able to get past the Elite Eight and get the championship. Why do you think the Missouri hasn’t been able to break through and win a championship or make the Final Four in any sport?

D: Back in my era, if Norm had an open checkbook, like a lot of other places did, I think that things could have gone totally different because he was a great coach. He could have easily led Missouri to a Final Four and multiple national championships, but he was unflinching in his principles; he was not going to cheat, was not going to give a kid any more than what he deserved and if you had an academic problem he was not going to go to your professor and scream at your professor about changing the grade.

I think if Norm had been a little easier to play for, had been more of a laid back coach that may have helped as well, but that just isn’t who he was. And if you came to Missouri, you came there knowing who he was. He was Stormin’ Norm. He’d get that way in practice, he’d get that way in games. Because he never wavered, and I love that guy. I’d do anything for him.

R: What differences do you see between playing in that era (‘70’s and ‘80’s) versus the current era of basketball?

D: Well, I’ll tell you a story. My first year of eligibility, Brad Droy was a kid from Triad High School in Troy, Illinois. Brad was my buddy and Brad was in a fight at the Christmas tournament against Nebraska. I don’t remember what round it was, but we were playing Nebraska.

Kyle McPike and Andre Smith, their two big guys, had Brad under the basket and were wailing away on him. Well, that’s my buddy, so I’m running back, the play’s going the other way, but this is a tag-team wrestling deal and Brad was taking a beating. So, I ran and got in the middle of that and stopped it. The referees came down and stopped the game a little bit, and then the play continues. Nobody got disqualified.

This is part of what you did. It was a very, very physical game. There was a lot of holding, lot of hand checking. Now, I think they’ve really improved the game. The three-point line helped, but I think cleaning up all the holding, all the pushing and shoving, physical play, has really made a big difference in the game, and obviously, weight training and nutrition.

When I started playing, they told us not to lift weights during the season. Well, I’m very thin, so I could lift weights all off-season, but then six or seven weeks after the off-season’s over, all that weight lifting that I’ve done is gone. I’m back to being real thin. So, now I think the nutrition and the weight training is a big part of what makes it so much better right now and the changes in the roles.

R: So would you say the game is better now? I know a lot of people that played during that era say today’s teams wouldn’t beat teams back in the day. Would you be inclined to agree with them?

D: The defense is so much better now because the teaching of defense is so much better. Now, let me say this if the rules are like they were back in my day (a lot more physical) I’d pick us, but in today’s game, I think we’d have a lot of trouble staying with these teams. They’re so quick and have an uncanny ability to score. They’re way better athletes than we were, mostly due to nutrition and a better understanding of how to train with weights during the season.

R: When you look at the current state of Missouri basketball, what’s the issue right now? What do you think it’s going to take for Missouri to get back to where it was during the Norm Stewart era?

D: Kim was my teammate and I think the world of the guy, but I think that there was a lack of discipline. I think that there were rules that probably weren’t quite as well enforced as they should have been and I think there were some people that were involved with the program that should not have been at the University of Missouri.

So I think that Kim had to use the last two years to clean up the “mess on aisle 12.” That cleanup is now done, and he’s able to finally start moving forward, I think that this year you’ll see the beginning of what’s going on, how much better they’re going to be in the future.

I’m very connected in the Chicago area, I was an AAU coach in Chicago for 12 or 13 years, and so I know these guys. I know the feeling before Kim took the job and I know the feeling about Missouri basketball since Kim has taken over, because I’ve talked to these guys, I still do the only state tournament on TV, and so hearing these AAU and high school coaches talk about the difference from the previous régime to now and how much they really want their kids to get exposed to Kim and his staff.

I know what’s coming and I understand what they’ve had to dig themselves out of, so I’m not concerned about the state of Missouri basketball. I don’t like the fact that they’re winning 10, 11, 12 games or whatever it is, but I know what he had to climb out of and what he had to clean up, was going to take some time.

I thought Ken Stallings said it really well last year when Vanderbilt came to Missouri. “This is a four or five-year process, if you just say at the end of three years ‘well you didn’t win 20 games, Kim, you’re out.’ That would be ridiculous based on what he had to start with, which was almost nothing.”

R: Part of the difficult situation that Coach Anderson had to deal with upon taking the job, was the NCAA investigation into the internship program that wasn’t actually an internship. According to the report, this fake internship program has been at Mizzou since the Norm Stewart era. Were you aware of a fake internship program or any other improper benefits being offered during your time at Mizzou?

D: Lord, no. When Norm came in, I was like the third or fifth all-ranked, all-American in the season center, played against the number one guy, which was Bill Cartwright, and I had a really good game (this was before I got hurt and before I had surgery).

Norm sat there and he looked at me and he said, “I’ll give you room, board, both tuition, and fees, you will get absolutely nothing else. If I can’t give you a ride somewhere, you’re going to have to walk to wherever you’re going unless you have a car. You’re not going to get a ride from anybody.” There was nothing, absolutely nothing, outside the rules that happened when I was there as a player or as an announcer. I know Norm and I know he wouldn’t put up with any of that.

R: What kind of things would other coaches offer, beyond a free education?

D: There were free trips home for me, trips for my family to come and see games, clothes, apartments, cars; there was a lot of stuff that was offered. There was a reason big schools were as successful as they were. Bottom line, it didn’t appeal to me and it wasn’t what I was looking for.

I told my high school coach if anybody offers anything like that they are out immediately, so my list got pretty short pretty quick. My head coach in high school came to me and asked if I was sure about this, “You’re getting rid of some real blue-bloods.” I said, ‘Yeah, Coach. If they’ll do this to get me, they’ll do other things and I’m not interested in that. I want somebody that will look me in the eye and I can look right back in the eye and not have to wonder what’s really going on.’

R: Do you think there’s a place for athletes getting paid, and getting more than just an education in college sports?

D: I can see both sides of it. I can see the side where you say how can you pay a guy and give him a scholarship, but at the same time, when you’re paying these guys to do this, and that is what a scholarship is, they are making you a significant amount of income as well.

It’s like in the NBA. You tell me that 12 million dollars for the eighth guy on the bench, you’re telling me that the third guy off the bench shouldn’t get paid that. The only reason he’s paid that is because his playing well is going to make more than that for the owners and for the league and so you understand what all that means.

So I can see both sides of the argument, and I can appreciate the fact that athletes risk an awful lot by playing in college. You get kids that could go straight to the pros. If a kid could go straight to NASA and become the chief engineer at NASA, he wouldn’t have to go to college, he would be able to go directly to NASA and be that chief engineer. And so I think there is an argument there to pay the players.

R: What was your major at Mizzou? Were you a journalism or a communications major? Or was that just something that you kind of developed over time?

D: No, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be some kind of a journalist or a coach, so I went the education route, all the while I was thinking that coaching would be what I wanted to do. I did take speech and writing classes to do what I could to prepare myself.

I talked to the journalism people at the time and they said, ‘Look, you’re going to have to be at the radio station when we tell you to be there, you’re going to have to do what we tell you to do when we tell you to do it.

And as a basketball player and an athlete, I don’t know that you’re always going to be able to be there if your shift is Saturday night at 8 o’clock, your shift is Saturday night at 8 o’clock. If you have a game, too bad.’ Well, I can’t do that obviously and so I went the education route and I could not have gone wrong either way.

I had a great time as a journalist and I think I would have had a great time as a coach, and in fact, I did coach a lot. I talked about the AAU stuff in the Chicago area. I had a blast! I wouldn’t look back or change much of anything.

R: How did Kevin Harlan help your announcing career?

D: Kevin was at KCMO in Kansas City and I met Kevin through the CNC tournament when Missouri played Texas and I was the Texas announcer and Kevin was the Missouri radio announcer.

The Missouri spot came open because Kevin was moving out, so that’s when I applied for a chance to come back home. So I left Austin, again as a UT radio guy, went back to Missouri and replaced Kevin at KCMO and was with the Missouri job. Kevin was terrific, absolutely terrific, through the whole thing. Helped me through a few different things and it was a great transition.

R: You were a play-by-play announcer or a color analyst for the Bulls, correct?

D: Yeah, I was a TV play-by-play announcer for the Bulls for 17 years. I did Missouri for two years on the radio. Kevin Harlan actually went to apply for the job first. Kevin asked if I’d mind if he put me down as a reference. And I said absolutely no problem, glad to help! And so Kevin put me down as a reference. So he went on and applied for the job. Eventually, they (the Bulls) called me. Guy’s name was John Tilly and I said, ‘John, I’m glad you called. Kevin’s a terrific guy, he’s really positive, he has a lot of energy. Kevin will be a great announcer.’

He said, ‘Kevin just left and he’s next for the job.’ And I said, ‘well okay…why are you calling me?’ I had absolutely no conception that they’d be interested in me for the TV job. And he said, ‘well we want to know if you’d like to apply for the job.’ There were three unknown candidates and this fourth unknown candidate. But they called me and asked if I’d be interested in the job. ‘An opportunity to go home? Hell yeah, I’m interested in the job!’

I went in and interviewed and left the interview and there was a payphone right at the corner and I called my wife and I said, ‘I think this is a done deal. They were recruiting me. This wasn’t an interview. This goes back to my high school days, I was being recruited.’ Yeah, I got the job a month and a half later.

R: Can you explain your involvement in the fifth down game against Colorado?

D: Well, first of all, Missouri had a terrific start to the season. Big win against Arizona State, a ranked team. We played so well against Colorado. Just dominated the line of scrimmage offensively, couldn’t stop Colorado, but Colorado couldn’t stop Missouri. It was a terrific game right down to the end.

So in the fourth quarter, I’m on the sidelines helping the guys with the sticks, I told the side official, you have the down wrong, and they’ve denied this several times, but I can promise you they heard me, I was standing right next to them. After the game ends, I go in the locker room (for my radio show) and Bob looks at me, Bob Stull, one of the all-time classiest people who has ever stepped foot on the University of Missouri campus, and says, “What happened?” and I said ‘Yeah, it was the fifth down,’ and explained how it was a time out and the marker official didn’t change the marker.

As I’m explaining this, I get it through my headset that they have to go back on the field for the extra point. This was just the first year that they had changed the rule, so if Missouri intercepted a pass, forced a fumble, or blocked a kick they could return it for two points. So I had to tell Bob on the air, “Hey, you have to get your team back on the field for the extra point conversion.”

You can imagine, 99% of the coaches in America would have told me exactly what to do with my microphone, and the whole bit. This guy was as classy as he could be. Understood exactly what I had said, and trusted me. So he brought the team back on the field and they had to go through the extra point which Colorado just downed it to end the game.

I was heartbroken for him, for his staff, and for the team. They beat Colorado. So anyway, the game ends and I see Bob a little while later and we just sat there and looked at each other and hugged for a couple minutes. You know, what do you do? When you have an ultimate program-changing win taken away, what do you do?

Mizzou Athletics

R: Because you’ve played at Missouri and were part of the culture, how difficult is it to be objective and not put your personal feelings in it when covering the team?

D: I think in football I did pretty well, in basketball, I’m not sure. I was always the most objective announcer that I could have been. I got to be really good friends with the officials around the league, really close with a lot of them.

We’d stay at the same hotel or I’d see somebody out at dinner and I’d go over and sit down and talk to them. So, there were probably about eight or nine of those guys that I’d sit and talk to on a regular basis because I was honest. If they blew a call, I’d tell them they blew a call. If a call went against Missouri and I’d looked at the replay, yeah they made the right call.

Yeah, I was a Missouri homer for basketball, I will readily admit that because I love Norm and still do to this day. I had a great reputation and a great relationship with the officials and I think that helped me a lot because if there was something going on they’d always look at me and make a hand signal or something like that, so I knew what was coming and I could start to talk about that on the radio.

R: So how was the transition for you going from being the “big man on campus,” being a college athlete, then transitioning into living a normal life and not getting the things that you were in college?

D: That’s one of the things that I think Norm really prepared all of us for life after basketball. He talked a lot about, if you’re going to sell shoes, go down to the store and watch the guy sell shoes for a couple days. So he had really prepared me especially because I had gotten a couple surgeries and went from being a scorer and a guy that had a chance to play in the NBA to really not having that opportunity.

He was really good with me about preparing me for life after basketball. Still, it’s not easy. You stay in these terrific hotels, you eat the best food, and get fans and alumni coming up to you and patting you on the back and all of a sudden all of that’s gone. And when it goes away, it goes away fast.

I remember I got out of the car with walk-on Mike Foster after we lost to LSU. I looked at Foster and said, ‘I guess this is it.’ And the loss hurt, but that’s the first time that it was really over, that's when it really truly hit.

R: Speaking of your injuries, how did you deal with that? Going from an all-American in high school with great potential to be a good professional player, then having that all taken away from you. How was it having to adjust your game and adjust your expectations?

D: Well, I had surgery the summer my before my freshman year. As a sophomore, I was in a car accident that ripped up my knee and there really wasn’t much they could do. I just went to regular doctors and they didn’t do surgery on my knee and now I know that with an ACL and PCL injury like I had, partially torn, that you need to get those taken care of.

Well, I came back and played that year at the end of the year, well at least I tried. I wasn’t very good, but I tried to play at the end of the year. So, after the car accident I really kind of shut down for a while and it’s unfortunate because I stopped lifting weights. I stopped a lot of things.

Just because I had the one injury on my ankle and now this came and honestly, I just kind of thought, ‘what else is there? There’s just not that much that I’m going to be able to do.’ I was frustrated.

My junior year I really didn’t put out the effort that I should have, and I’ll be the first to admit this. My senior year, I think, that all came back but it was too little, too late by then. But I stayed in the classroom and did what I could do and went on to play a little overseas.

R: What were your options as far as playing professionally, only overseas or was there interest here in the U.S.?

D: Well, there was no D-League or anything like that. You were either in the NBA or you were going to play in a very limited opportunity overseas. It was really just starting when I got out. In fact, one of the guys that really helped me understand the overseas game was Kim. Kim got drafted by Portland and went to Italy. He and I talked about what to expect, how physical it was going to be, and how, as the American, you’re not going to get any calls. He said, ‘at 7’2’’ you are going to have every call go against you.’ So, Kim really prepared me for that.

But no, my only option was, and it was pretty limited because I didn’t average 17-18 points a game, was to go to France for a year. I did that and had trouble getting paid. My wife and I got on a plane a couple times to come home and finally just came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to do this anymore.

So, I went back home and started to look for a job and then I had an opportunity to go to New Zealand and that was terrific. I had a great time and more than playing, I became more of a player/coach; I taught the coaches how to teach the game. I also became a TV announcer for the league that I played in which was interesting. Eventually, I was asked if I would consider being the national junior coach, ‘and then we’d like you to eventually become the national coach, the head of all of our coaches.’

Well, all of that sounded good, but my wife’s dad died and we just needed to come home. It was kind of time to come home. So we did. Came home, I went to work at a tiny radio station in Miami, Florida, and that’s how I got into this crazy business.

R: If you had to pinpoint one game, whether it be individual or team success, that you’ll never forget, what would that one game be?

D: I think for both of the fans that would remember my illustrious career in Missouri, they would point to a NCAA tournament against San Jose State. I had a pretty good second half and I helped the team to a win.

But winning in Kansas, it’s about more the wins than my individual stuff. Winning the Big Eight, I think, would probably be the highlight of my Missouri career. That was such a great day to look back and have the ring and be able to hug Norm and the staff and the other guys.

We were the silent nine, that’s what our term was, we had a lot of guys that either quit, had academic problems, or got hurt and were out for the rest of the year. So, to overcome all of that and win the Big Eight was pretty cool.