The relationship was deepened in St. Louis on Dec. 21, 1999. As the Tigers boarded their bus to play Illinois that night, Snyder pulled Kareem aside, steered him into a corner of the Ritz-Carlton lobby and informed him of his NCAA suspension. Kareem started weeping. "I'd seen him emotional at times," says Snyder, who wrapped his arm around the sobbing player, "but never like that. We had a chance through that adversity to build some trust. That year was good for the two of us. It wasn't only him showing up at practice and me coaching him. There was more to it than that."
"He knows what I'm thinking, and I know what he's thinking before he even tells me," Kareem says. "It's a special bond." Rather than sulk during his suspension, Kareem practiced with the second team, worked on his deficiencies, improved. When he returned, he scored 16.9 points a game and was named co- Big 12 freshman of the year.
Yet just as Kareem moved so effortlessly on the court, slipping like liquid through defenders, he remained elusive to the people who cared most about him. "He was nomadic," Snyder says. "After the season he'd drift. He'd go back to Kansas City on weekends and not make it back on time for class. If you're going to be a great player, you can't be like that."
"If I'm not around you, I can just...pull away," Kareem says. "It's nothing intentional. I'll be concentrating on what I'm doing and forget what's going on in Columbia or wherever. I can go without talking to somebody for a long time."
So Kareem was required to memorize Snyder's phone numbers and promise to call him that summer. Every day. No exception. Sometimes the conversation went like this:
Hey, Coach. Kareem.
You doing all right?
See you later.
Other times they spoke at length, about things besides basketball. "It let me know he cared," Kareem says.