It's just too bad for the media that the Billikens' leading scorer and best player, Claggett, doesn't have a personality more like that of junior guard H Waldman, the slick-passing transfer from UNLV, or that of senior Donnie Dobbs, the power forward who wears Charles Barkley's number, 34, and tries to emulate the swaggering style of the Phoenix Suns' star. Then Claggett might says things like, "I even amaze myself sometimes," which is what Dobbs said when asked how he is able to hold his own under the boards. Or he might elicit from Spoonhour the kind of comment the coach made about Waldman's passes, which represent the non-dunking Billikens' best shot for a clip on the highlight shows. "H Waldman has a multitude of ideas," Spoonhour says, "some of which I even enjoy." It also would be nice if Claggett had an unusual hobby like that of junior forward Donnie Campbell, who is an amateur magician.
Alas, Claggett's style is more like that of 6'8" center Evan Pedersen, a serious-minded Mormon who transferred from Northwestern, or that of 6'5" junior forward Scott Highmark, a devout Christian whose role is to do whatever it takes on a given night to help St. Louis win. "Clagg's real quiet and shy," says Highmark. "He stays in with his girlfriend and doesn't go out a lot. I call him Mama's Boy because he's real passionate about his family."
Claggett went to high school in Venice, Ill. (thus his nickname, the Venice Menace), which is about 10 miles from St. Louis. He picked the Billikens over Colorado, Iowa State and Wake Forest in large part so that the three strong women who raised him could easily come see him play. He was so upset when his grandmother Louise Anderson—whom Erwin called Ma Dear—died in the summer of 1992 that he considered giving up basketball. When his aunt Ruby Berry died in February 1993, Claggett skipped the Billikens' game at UAB to attend the funeral. That leaves his mother, Anna, as his No. 1 booster. "I have the best mom in the world," Claggett says.
Already the most prolific three-point shooter in Billiken history, Claggett this year is converting better than 45% from beyond the stripe with his rainbow jumper. When he's cold or when defenses double-team him, he tries to get the ball inside to Dobbs, who's a bit like Barkley in his ability to use his wide body to gain position.
Dobbs leads St. Louis in dunks. With two. "We don't have to dunk because we've got such great outside shooters," he says. "But we can dunk if we get the opportunity. I had one against DePaul that I thought was pretty sweet myself."
Still, much of the credit for the Billikens' success must go to Spoonhour. And let's put to rest the rumor that he took the St. Louis job only so he could be close to the Cardinals. Not so, even though St. Louis baseball has been the love of his life since he was a kid growing up in Rogers, Ark., during the 1940s. "My dad was a meat cutter by day who tried to write music at night, and my mom loved sports," Spoonhour says. "All you had back then was listening to the Cardinals on KMOX. The first family vacation we took, in 1951, we came to St. Louis and watched six Cardinal games."
In the winter Charlie's mom, Irma, followed Henry Iba's Oklahoma A&M basketball teams, so early in Charlie's coaching career, when he was working his way up through the high school and junior college ranks, he was thrilled when he became a friend of Moe Iba's, one of Henry's coaching sons. That subsequently led to friendship with the elder Iba, who died last year at the age of 88. All through his coaching career Spoonhour has used Henry's motion, ball-control offense and aggressive man-to-man defense.
In his office at St. Louis, Spoonhour has three clusters of photos, each dedicated to his lifelong passions. Over here is the coaching cluster, dominated by photos of the Ibas. Over there is the baseball cluster, which mainly features Whitey Herzog, Ozzie Smith and various other Cardinals past and present. And then there's the music cluster, in which Willie Nelson is most prominent. Spoon loves old '50s tunes so much that when he was at Southwest Missouri, he was thrilled to learn that the head of the school's marketing department was none other than the immortal Robin Luke, whose recording of Susie Darlin' had been a big hit in 1958.
The fans in St. Louis love the way Spoonhour loves the Cardinals. He tapes his weekly TV show in the downtown restaurant owned by Mike Shannon, a former Cardinal star and the team's current radio analyst, and his guests so far have included Shannon, Smith, Cardinal broadcaster Jack Buck, outfielder Bernard Gilkey and manager Joe Torre. (This is a basketball show, right?)
Nothing would thrill Spoonhour more than to make the NCAA tournament field this season and get assigned to the Southeast Region's first-round site in St. Petersburg, Fla., home of the Cardinals' spring training camp. Noting that the Cardinals' biggest problem last season was an error-plagued defense, Torre put an arm around Spoon recently and said to him, "Charlie, you really got to get into that end of the draw so you can coach your team at night and then come out and help me talk to our team about the value of no turnovers."