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According to Steve, Ted, now married and working at a metals plant in Overland, a St. Louis suburb, didn't realize the importance of staying near the family. "Ted worked his butt off in football," says Steve. "He lifted weights, ate right. He was interested in a healthy body. If he'd gone to Mizzou, he'd be All-America here now."
The Stipanoviches are a close, proud clan. After Sam married Elaine Ortmann, they dropped the "h" from their last name, but when Steve excelled at DeSmet he put the "h" back in. "If I was going to get the publicity, I wanted my name spelled right," he says. "Hell, we have relatives. It's the way the name should be spelled."
At DeSmet Grawer wrote every name coach he could think of, inquiring about methods for teaching a tall center. Then he worked Stipanovich to the bone. Teammates who guarded Stipo in practice used pieces of rolled-up carpet as arm extensions. Grawer had him carry bricks during jumping drills. Eventually Stipanovich made himself into a player, and Grawer made himself a reputation. He has since published a book, Secrets of Winning Post Play Basketball, and is now an assistant at Missouri.
As the usual five trillion colleges came hustling after Stipanovich, Notre Dame's Digger Phelps, perhaps figuring that Stipo couldn't resist being coached by an undertaker's son, hinted that he had Stipanovich "locked up." But Missouri Coach Norm Stewart persuaded Stipo that he should be "united" with his state university. Phelps still is searching for a center at South Bend.
Stewart, a tough, demanding fellow with a wry congeniality, sometimes asks more of the Tigers than they can deliver. However, when Stipo was a freshman, Stewart asked only that Stipanovich be "comfortable." A good season (25-6) resulted with Stipanovich epitomizing the Missouri team, which was smart, patient, defensively hungry, with an exquisite passing sense and the ability to recognize its limitations and never overextend. Stipanovich shot .598 from the field, averaged 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds a game and contributed particularly strong efforts against Kansas (a career-high 29 points) and in Missouri's second-round upset of—dig?—Notre Dame (15 points, eight rebounds) in the NCAAs. The Tigers began the tournament by beating San Jose State; they lost in the Midwest Region semifinals to LSU.
Stipanovich provided instant credibility to Missouri basketball. Attendance at Hearnes Center increased by 2,836 a game in his freshman season, the largest rise in the country. Moreover, other Big Eight schools imported a passel of huge beefeaters to combat him on the boards. The most prominent were Kansas' massive 6'9" Victor (The Fat) Mitchell, who has since ballooned to the size of a blimp and drifted away from school, but not before one P.A. announcer read off his stats as "Mitchell—eight points, six rebounds, four orders of fries," and Oklahoma's 6'10", 250-pound Charles (Big Time) Jones, who as a redshirt last year was caught sleeping behind the bench during a game and was renamed "Bed Time." Already this season Sooner Coach Billy Tubbs has screamed "Time!" (for time out), only to watch Jones's teammates, thinking his name had been called, look for him to shoot.
Stipo fit right in with the crowd. "My body was a mess," he says. "I've always drunk a lot of beer and gorged on greasy junk food, and I was never strong or aggressive." Quick leapers, especially, took advantage of his granite Converses. He had only 15 blocked shots as a freshman.
Sometimes Stipo appeared to be one long sweat gland, the water pouring from his face and shoulders and soaking his sneakers. During many games he had to change uniforms and shoes. Against San Jose State in the '80 NCAAs, he hyperventilated and missed the second half.
The summer after his freshman year, Stipanovich took an extended vacation. He passed up the Olympic Trials, lay on the beach in California and wallowed in the suds. "That was stupid," he says. "I screwed myself up for a long time."
Twenty-five pounds overweight, at 265, out of shape and not caring, in the fall Stipanovich moved into a dilapidated house in a crummy neighborhood with five buddies, much against Stewart's wishes. "It wasn't the right atmosphere, and I never studied," says Stipo. "I was more interested in having a good time than having a good basketball team."