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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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Quarters for the Tigers at Hearnes are small, but modern and comfortable. Each player's name is engraved on a plastic strip over his dressing cubicle, and there is a compartment for valuables, each with a combination lock. A sign advises that BIG EIGHT CHAMPIONS ARE MADE, NOT BORN. The Staple Singers hammer out a locker-room favorite: Do it again, do it again....

The doors were unlocked at 6:30 and the crowd thundered in, risking life and limb scrambling over the too-steep chair backs to get down to the choice locations. By game time the announcer was able to report that it was the biggest crowd of the year, 11,847. The crowd applauded lustily. The clamorous Mini-Mizzou added its approval from a select spot underneath the east basket.

Missouri beat Nebraska in overtime, principally because of the continued fine play of Willie Smith and Kim Anderson. Kennedy, still off form, took only six shots, but made five. He hung around the auditorium afterward, visiting with his mother and Terri. He told Terri to wait and he'd get the Mustang and bring it around to pick her up so she wouldn't have to tackle the snow.

Outside, black and white athletes split into groups and went their separate ways. It was something seen everywhere, and nothing anyone seemed able or inclined to do anything about. A matter of "selection," Kennedy said, though he added the players sometimes mixed at parties.

He was halfway back to Tiger Towers before he realized he had forgotten Terri. When he got back to the auditorium, a J-schooler was waiting with her; he had offered to take her home. Kennedy told him to "bug off."

The next morning Kennedy was at Terri's apartment early, and with the weather already warming again took her for a ride down to the river. It was breezy still, but the sun was out, and he had a six-pack, and they stayed three hours.

Two weeks later Missouri won the Big Eight championship with victories over Kansas State and Colorado. Kennedy played brilliantly against a favored Kansas State team in Manhattan, scoring 15 points and—more important—playing aggressive defense and leading the team with 12 rebounds. Afterward, however, he preferred to tell how great Willie Smith had been, scoring 38 points "and just going wild." A crowd estimated at close to 300 came to the Columbia airport to meet the team.

Kennedy's mother drove down for the final, anticlimactic game with Colorado. Kennedy told her how Coach Stewart was "beside himself" winning the championship and "how pleased" he was for Stewart. "It's his life," he said. Mrs. Kennedy took her son by the arm and walked him away from the group.

"You've wanted that Jeep for years," she said soberly. "I know you have, and I wanted you to have it. I've shopped around and looked at the prices, and it's just out of the question. So here." She handed him the keys to a 1975 Jeep CJ-5. Just like Meat's, only green.

He told her to please pass the keys to the Mustang on to his other sister. And never mind what happened to the coat hanger.

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