Note: This was originally posted in February. It's been updated to account for Michael Porter Jr.'s commitment to Washington.
Heading into 2003-04, the path for Missouri basketball was obvious and beautiful. The Ricky Clemons incident had recently begun to the program to some degree -- while serving at a halfway house for a domestic incident, he crashed an ATV at the school president's house -- and he had been kicked off the team. Still, this was a preseason top-five squad.
Seniors Arthur Johnson, Rickey Paulding, Travon Bryant, and Josh Kroenke were going to mix with veteran Jimmy McKinney, prolific VMI transfer Jason Conley, and youngsters Linas Kleiza and Thomas Gardner. The Tigers were going to have an awesome season, move to Mizzou Arena (well, the Paige Sports Arena), land Poplar Bluff's Tyler Hansbrough and Kansas City's Brandon Rush, and move toward an awesome new era of basketball.
Quin Snyder's desperation for a point guard had led him to Clemons, which led him into a little bit of trouble, but it was survivable. It didn't appear that NCAA sanctions were going to be too stiff, and besides, winning conquers all. Snyder's teams had been inconsistent and occasionally frustrating, but they had still gone to the Elite Eight in 2002 and had nearly knocked out eventual Dwayne Wade and the Marquette team that reached the Final Four the year before. This was all going to be alright.
On December 9, recorded jailhouse phone calls between Clemons and the wife of Missouri's associate athletic director emerged, introducing "Them crackers shaking" into the Mizzou lexicon.
On December 13, Missouri lost to Gonzaga in overtime in Seattle, in part because of a 10-second violation that was called with 27 seconds left on the shot clock. (This game was one of the most infuriating that I've ever dealt with as a fan.) On December 23, the Tigers lost to Illinois by one. Four days later, they lost to Memphis by two. Then, with much of the Missouri fanbase in Shreveport for the Independence Bowl, Mizzou returned home and lost to Belmont.
And on and on. Desperate for a win, Mizzou lost to Texas on January 20 because, up 3, Arthur Johnson blocked a shot near the basket directly to a wide open Brian Boddicker, who nailed a three-pointer and forced overtime. On February 7, the Tigers fell to 9-10 after a blowout loss at Nebraska. And after a six-game winning streak dragged them back into NCAA contention, they finished with a demoralizing loss at Texas Tech and a last-second home loss to Kansas in the final game at the Hearnes Center.
On March 16, the supposed Final Four contender lost by one point to Michigan in the first round of the NIT. It was the Tigers' sixth loss of the season that was either by one possession or in overtime.
And in late August, Hansbrough committed to North Carolina and Rush committed to Kansas. In October, the NCAA announced punishment related to what the Clemons incident had revealed.
It is difficult to ever imagine a more horrifying 12-month span for a team than that. The trajectory of the basketball program undertook a full 180-degree turn. Granted, Missouri has since given this string of events competition from a general instability perspective, but still nothing can match that.
Regardless of which span of time has been the most damaging for Missouri, however, one thing has been made perfectly clear: When there's a blue-chipper getting ready to commit somewhere, the Mizzou program must begin falling apart.
Out of pure, morbid curiosity, I did a little bit of playing around in the Rivals database. I wanted to look at the four- and five-star prospects the state of Missouri has produced over the last decade and change (the Rivals database stretches back to the 2002 class), and I wanted to compare it to the state of the Missouri program at the time. Was the program somewhat stable, or was there general instability for any number of reasons -- NCAA investigation, losing, coaching drama (rumored departures, etc.)? The ratio of stable to unstable has certainly been poor for this program since the turn of the century, but one thing has been even worse: Missouri's timing.
|Class||Big-time recruits (school committed)||Missouri stability|
|2002||none||stable (coming off of three straight NCAA appearances)|
|2003||none||stable (coming off of Elite Eight appearance)|
|2004||Steven Hill (Arkansas)
Kalen Grimes (Missouri)
|stable (five straight NCAAs)|
|2005||Tyler Hansbrough (UNC)
Brandon Rush (Kansas)
|unstable (awful season, NCAA investigation)|
|2006||none||unstable (losing, NCAA sanctions)|
|2007||George Goode (Louisville)||unstable (losing, NCAA sanctions)|
|2008||Scott Suggs (Washington)
John Brandenburg (Virginia)
Anthony Booker (SIU)
|unstable (AD trouble, losing, coaching change)|
|2009||none||stable (Anderson building)|
|2010||none||stable (coming off of Elite Eight appearance)|
|2011||Brad Beal (Florida)
Otto Porter (Georgetown)
BJ Young (Arkansas)
|unstable (rumored coach departure, recruiting indifference)|
|2012||Cam Biedscheid (Notre Dame)||unstable (coaching change)|
|2013||none||stable (coming off of 30-win season)|
|2014||none||stable (back-to-back NCAAs)|
|2015||Jimmy Whitt (Arkansas)
Landry Shamet (Wichita State)
|unstable (surprise coaching change)|
|2016||Jayson Tatum (Duke)
Tyler Cook (Iowa)
Xavier Sneed (Kansas State)
|unstable (awful product)|
|2017||Michael Porter (Washington)||unstable (awful product, NCAA sanctions)|
Now, this is far from scientific, but the results are astounding. That's seven stable recruiting cycles and nine unstable ones; that's a terrible ratio, to be sure. But wow.
In seven stable cycles, the state of Missouri has produced two four-star guys, zero in the last four cycles.
In nine unstable cycles, the state has produced 16 four- or five-star products, including Hansbrough, Rush, Beal, O. Porter, Tatum, and M. Porter. If Hansbrough is a 2003 recruit, he quite likely signs with Missouri. If Otto Porter is a member of the 2010 class, he probably does, too. Michael Porter spent a lot of his life in Columbia with family on the roster and coaching staff of the women's team. If Mizzou has itself in order, there's a decent chance that he gives the Tigers a long look, or his dad gives a long look to an assistant coaching position on the men's team. It does not, and they did not.
You're always going to struggle to sustain an on-court product when you have more instability than stability. Obviously. But my goodness, it's taken a lot for Missouri to miss out on all of these guys. And granted, the state has also produced some three-stars who turned out to be awesome (Marcus Denmon, to name one of many) while some of these four-stars didn't live up to hype. But ... still.
This post is high on the MIZERY scale, to be sure. But the intent wasn't to wallow ... it was to marvel. You couldn't pull off timing like this if you tried.
The last decade-plus of Mizzou basketball has produced some great moments despite the bad times. Mizzou's out-of-nowhere run in 2009 -- winning 11 of 12 in January and February, Zaire Taylor's buzzer beaters, Demarre Carroll's Senior Night tears, winning the Big 12 Tournament, pasting Memphis and making the Elite Eight -- still gives me chills.
And the sustained level of play that the Tigers established in early 2011-12, followed by the 14-4 run in conference and another Big 12 Tournament crown on the way out the door -- was remarkable even if the final chapter was a terrible disappointment.
Missouri will be good again one day, and it will feel good when it happens. And hopefully when the program gathers itself to some degree, it won't have to travel very far for high-end talent. Hopefully there will actually be some impressed blue-chippers nearby for once.