Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

No Benchmark Tourney a Tough Reminder for Heller

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

No Benchmark Tourney a Tough Reminder for Heller

Article excerpt

It wasn't until last Saturday that Linda Heller could muster the resolve she would need to sit through a Big Eight Conference game - and watch her son languish on the Missouri bench.

"I can stay at home and growl and throw socks at the television," she said. With a laugh, she added, "Anything too hard might break it."

She gave in, though, because it was family day at the Hearnes Center and her son, Chris, was dressing for - certainly, he wouldn't play - his last MU home game.

"For someone with his talent," she said, "to only be doing what he's getting to do is just a disgrace."

The enigmatic Chris Heller, once Mr. Show-Me basketball, a former McDonald's All-American, had started 31 games before this season. At 6 feet 10, he is MU's tallest player.

But he has played just 26 apprehensive minutes this Big Eight season, a timetable that is particularly poignant as the Big Eight Conference Tournament looms this weekend.

It was here at Kemper Arena last season that Heller burst from the cocoon of timidity that had inhibited his collegiate career. His sterling play sparked the seventh-seeded Tigers to the tournament championship. He was the tournament's most valuable player.

"This is our big-time player," MU's Melvin Booker said then.

Even MU coach Norm Stewart, often perplexed and exasperated by Heller's meekness, was moved by his emergence. After Heller was named MVP, Stewart hugged him - for the first and probably last time.

Consider that Heller's 41 points in three Big Eight Tournament games was more than he has scored the entire 1993-94 season (37). Heller had as many or more rebounds in each game of the Big Eight Tournament as he has totaled in the 14-game Big Eight season (six).

Over the summer, Heller attended Pete Newell's celebrated big-man's camp in California and seemed intent on enhancing his play. And Heller started five nonconference games this season.

So what happened?

"He had a lot of opportunities, so after a while, you start looking at other avenues," Stewart said. …

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