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The Student
John Underwood
April 05, 1976
Removed from the showcase of his sport, what is he, who is he—the big-time college basketball player? A look at Missouri's Jim Kennedy
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April 05, 1976

The Student

Removed from the showcase of his sport, what is he, who is he—the big-time college basketball player? A look at Missouri's Jim Kennedy

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"We beat hell out of 'em," he said.

Three taxis transported the team to the Kansas field house. Ankles were taped, and the players sat around studying game programs, looking for some meaning in the weights and measures. Stewart's pregame talk was a model of urgency and expertise.

"Set the double and go...push that wing man out here and start cat-'n'-mousing...when this man buttonhooks, you got to get off, get off...if they start out zone, Jimmy, I want you in the middle.... You're going to have a physical game here, you can't be reacting to the crowd or the officials. You can't be tense, but you've got to be intent."

Clap, clap, clap. The players began a rhythmic applause and surrounded Stewart, Kennedy rising from his spot off to one side. "Let's go, baby!" "Let's do it, No. 42," "Do it, Big D!" Clap, clap. "Get after 'em, Jimbo. Let's go, Bo!"

"Now listen," said Stewart, his voice falling. "There are nuts in every town. When we go out there they'll be yelling and maybe throwing things, but when you get to the floor, run on the floor. Make it tough. Make it tough as hell. Everyone, everyone can do something in this game. Make up your mind. O.K."

When they went out, the Kansas crowd greeted them with slander and ridicule. Stewart looked up at the far end of the arena, where a small band in motley dress—but mostly Tiger black and gold—thumped and boomed. "See where they put the Mini-Mizzou?" he said. "Section 11. Best band in the league, and everybody's scared to death of 'em." He grinned.

The Missouri team was not so scary. Kansas took the lead and held it. Only Willie Smith, Missouri's best player and high scorer, responded to the distant beseeching of the Mini-Mizzou. At halftime Missouri trailed by five points. Kennedy was off form; one of his shots missed the basket entirely and, too eager on defense, he accumulated fouls.

In the snow-free dressing room Kennedy took a back seat for the halftime talk and sucked on an orange wedge. Stewart was conciliatory. His voice suggesting revelation, he said, "You know what? They've just played the best half they've played all year, and you've played your worst, and you're still only five points behind. What does that tell you?"

Missouri closed the gap, but could not pull away. The game came, taut, to the finish. Stewart maintained a remarkable benchside calm, calling out instructions, conducting time-out seminars. But Kennedy could not shake his torpor and, piqued, engaged in an impromptu wrestle with a Kansas player he had been wearing on his neck. A double foul was called, Kennedy's fifth. He was waved to the bench, behind which a tiny black-haired girl commiserated loudly.

Missouri lost the lead with seconds to go; then, miraculously, won on a tip-in by Smith, who could barely be seen in the flailing of arms under the basket. The gun went off as the ball sifted through the net.

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