Feed the Beast

Everybody wants Hazelwood Central's Kalen Grimes and St. Louis' junior class of hoopsters. But recruiting in the city is a courtship dance and a high-maintenance affair.

"I don't know if Norm enjoyed recruiting," says Rich Gray, president of the St. Louis Eagles. "Snyder and Harvey enjoy it and do a terrific job of analyzing talent."

Most everyone is convinced that the Snyder regime is a nice fit for inner-city ballers, an opinion no doubt heavily influenced by the signing of Vashon's McKinney. It also helps that Snyder's relationship with Irons predates his tenure at Missouri; the two first met at Kansas' camp when Snyder played at Duke in the mid-'80s.

"McKinney's signing didn't surprise people. Snyder was an up-tempo coach," says ex-Vashon player Randy Reed, now head coach at McCluer North in Florissant, where he's nurturing six-foot-five, 300-pound freshman prodigy Keith "Baby Shaq" Williams.

DeSmet's Blake Ahearn is set to take his 1,200-shot-per-day routine to Southwest Missouri State.
Jennifer Silverberg
DeSmet's Blake Ahearn is set to take his 1,200-shot-per-day routine to Southwest Missouri State.

"When I turn on the TV and see Quin Snyder's team, that's all I need," says Horton, referring to the Tigers' fast-breaking attack. "Snyder's young -- and isn't tied to Old Dixie."

In Horton's estimation, Stewart embodied Old Dixie. Horton calls the state of Missouri "one of the most backwards places in the country," pointing to the "Missouri Waltz" -- which Horton claims originally contained the phrase "all the little pickaninnies" -- as his favorite example of the state's institutional racism.

"Missouri is too far south to be North, too far north to be South -- but we took a Southern position," Horton explains. "Teams used to run out on the football field with Confederate flags. This is the South."

Snyder hails from the tony Seattle suburb of Mercer Island, Washington, which is fine by Horton -- anywhere but Missouri and its Confederate affinity, as far as he's concerned.

Stipanovich agrees that there's something to the generational-geographical theory, which he also believes is a reflection on the incessant coddling of the modern player.

"I think Norm would be considered an old-school coach, where Quin is a younger coach and is suited for the type of athletes that come out of high school these days," says Stipanovich. "With Coach Stewart, it's a 'my way or the highway' type of thing, more of a disciplinary style of coaching. It was good for me, and in my day, it's all I understood. Athletes nowadays don't respond to that very well. I think they've been pampered much more throughout the grade-school and high-school process than when I was playing."

DeSmet's Bob Steiner is not sure whether recruiting McKinney wasn't just an extension of Stewart's "get the best player" philosophy, but he gives Snyder points for solidifying links with Irons.

"They're looking for the best players in the country, and Jimmy fit," says Steiner. "Snyder came down and developed a relationship with Coach Irons, who has a lot to do with where his kids go to school."

Snyder agrees that it's about getting the best players but acknowledges the importance of an in-state connection. "You always recruit the best players, but you'd rather have them in your state because there's loyalty," he says. "It's exciting for people who follow your team to see local players."

Mizzou's Harvey agrees that it's about getting the best players -- in the nation.

"You treat people the same. Areas get hot; areas get cold," Harvey explains. "The state itself is pretty good, but when you start talking national championships, it gets to be a real fine line."

At the end of Mizzou's practice, motormouth power forward Travon Bryant and Snyder are engaged in a giggly game of smack-talk one-upsmanship, cracking one-liners from opposite corners of the Columbia campus' cavernous Hearnes Center court.

Most of the other players are letting off steam on the sidelines after a particularly intense early-season session conducted by the whip-smart Snyder, a youthful law-school grad who looks as though he could compete for a job in the Tigers' backcourt, which was ravaged during the off-season after Kareem Rush went hardship, Clarence Gilbert graduated and Wesley Stokes transferred to San Diego State.

True freshman McKinney is expected to garner serious playing time immediately, which may explain why he and senior swingman Paulding are still raining 25-foot three-balls at the rim while their teammates ham it up.

A genuinely sweet and earnest kid if there ever was one, Jimmy Mac doesn't talk smack. On this day, his shooting is streaky, but McKinney remains stoic, resisting the temptation to show off his sterling springs with a crunk-ass windmill before hitting the bricks.

Sprawled on the bleachers after practice in a blue stocking cap and standard-issue sweatshirt, McKinney says that although Irons made him aware of the historical gravity of his decision to attend Mizzou, that's not what influenced his decision.

"The players are similar to the players at Vashon," he says of Mizzou. "Mom and Dad's opinion came first, then Coach Irons'. My opinion was last."

Had McKinney, an unabashed Michael Jordan worshiper (join the club, kid), put his own opinion first, he might be wearing Tar Heel blue right now. When asked about playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, McKinney's eyes light up, but he's quick to state his rationale for ending up in Columbia.

"Mom couldn't drive to the games [in Chapel Hill]," says McKinney.

It also didn't hurt that Snyder and Harvey had a PHL watchdawg -- namely Demetrious Johnson -- former Mizzou hooper and longtime Stewart critic -- firmly in their corner.

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