Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slu, Mu Ready to Rumba Once Again, Tigers Begin Offbeat

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slu, Mu Ready to Rumba Once Again, Tigers Begin Offbeat

Article excerpt

Only a week ago, the University of Missouri basketball program dripped with promise. The Tigers had won 18 successive Big Eight Conference games and scaled their way to a No. 3 ranking in both major polls.

Perhaps most significant, they made their lofty accomplishments without a hint of the turmoil - NCAA investigations, legal problems, illnesses - that has tattooed itself to the program in recent years. It was almost disturbingly serene.

But the placid scenario abruptly changed - just in time for the Tigers to begin NCAA Tournament play against 16th-seeded Navy in the Midwest Regional at 7:13 tonight at the Dee Events Center.

"We've had some distractions," Missouri coach Norm Stewart said.

Such as:

Before the Big Eight Tournament, reserve forward Marlo Finner was suspended indefinitely for unspecified academic deficiencies.

Early Tuesday morning, reserve guard Paul O'Liney was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge outside a Columbia nightclub. Four other players were there, including three seniors.

O'Liney pleaded guilty to the charge Tuesday afternoon and paid a fine of $100 plus $20 in court costs. He is suspended for tonight's game.

Reserve guard Derrick Johnson missed the team's charter plane Tuesday night and is off the team - at least for now.

A source said that Johnson had driven Finner and Mark Atkins to Columbia Regional Airport after all three had missed the team bus at the Hearnes Center. Johnson, the source said, dropped off his teammates but never went in the airport.

Although Finner has been reinstated, three player suspensions and an arrest in one week weren't what Stewart was trying to hatch at this most crucial time of the season.

He was, in fact, livid - particularly at seniors Atkins, Melvin Booker and Jevon Crudup for putting themselves in a precarious position by being at "By George" in the wee hours the night before the team was to leave. That very day, in fact, Stewart had cautioned the team about its conduct.

"Coach's reaction about Monday night," Booker said, pausing as Stewart looked on, "was one I'd never seen before. He got his point across."

So harsh was Stewart, in fact, that he was said to have apologized to the team Wednesday afternoon.

"I reacted - and I probably overreacted," he said. "And I hope I didn't take away from them."

Now, it is Stewart's task to make sure the distractions aren't detractions. To aid his cause, Stewart deputized the contrite Booker and senior Lamont Frazier at Wednesday's news conference.

"Distractions are part of the game," Frazier said, "but we're mature enough to come out and put distractions to the side and do what we have to do."

As the rest of the team was whisked away from the media, Stewart put his arm around Frazier, praised Booker - and sprinkled in his typical touch of gallows humor in the process: Frazier and Booker would be just the kind of guys he'd turn to, he joked, if he needed an ally in, say, a fist fight. …

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