The manual stats team features (from left) Mike Van Hecke, Mike Owens, Ken Mraz and Ron Golden.
As the Saint Louis University men’s basketball team begins its 2022-23 season, an entire world of people is making it happen. It’s not just head coach Travis Ford drawing up plays and superstar point guard Yuri Collins dealing out assists. It’s equipment managers washing jerseys, announcers boosting the crowd and the Director of Player Personnel organizing recruiting trips.
There’s also the manual stats crew.
They aren’t statisticians. They aren’t employees of the university. They don’t get paid –– unless you count the free tickets and parking voucher. They are just four guys who enjoy Billikens basketball and do their part to track it. As Chaifetz Arena rumbles after a huge alley-oop dunk, the statisticians are huddled in front of their papers, chatting back and forth, making sure they correctly logged who made the dunk and who made the assist.
The stats crew is made up of four people: Ron Golden, Ken Mraz, Mike Owens and Mike Van Hecke. They won’t be on the court, or on press row. They will be sitting near the band, where they’d rather not sit, because it’s a little too loud, and they like to talk to each other and double-check each other’s stats.
They each take a different category. Golden takes rebounds. Owens takes the shot chart. Mraz takes field goals, free throws and helps with the shot chart. Van Hecke takes assists, turnovers, blocks and steals.
For nearly 40 years, the crew has kept stats at Billikens men’s basketball games. For about 30 of those years, they were the official stats crew, although they have never been paid for their efforts.
They started tracking numbers in 1982. At that time, one person, Joe Noelker, served as a one-man stats machine. He took down everything –– field goal makes, field goal attempts, free throw makes, free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, team rebounds, dead balls, total rebounds, assists, turnovers and steals. For both teams. It was a lot to handle. So Mraz and Bill Hertzfeldt joined to help.
Over the years, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
used the volunteer stat keepers’ box scores. Trading cards used the stat keepers' player stats. When you look at Basketball Reference at how many points SLU legends like Anthony Bonner or Larry Hughes scored, it was the stat keepers –– people scribbling down numbers, in the penalty box, under the basket, in front of the band, wherever SLU put them.
“For the past couple decades, I watched a lot of basketball, shared a lot of laughs and anguished over every missed free [throw], every official’s call that went against the Billikens,” Hertzfeldt would later summarize in an email to his fellow stats keepers when he moved away in 2020.
But that was before computers became readily available.
Starting about 10 years ago, SLU began logging the stats into the computer in real-time. The manual stats crew still provides a shot chart to the coaching staff, but other than that, their numbers have been relegated to backup –– only used in the case of a power outage or flooding. Mraz professes to have no hard feelings about that. People at SLU seemed better positioned to take over the computer work, and they were happy to back them up.
“Our role has changed as time has evolved and technology has come around to kind of pass us up,” Mraz says. “But that's OK.”
And the manual stats crew is still going. They're there every single game. Mraz says it's "a way of getting involved." He uses the word "fun" multiple times. He's become close with the other stats keepers, SLU staff and fans. “It's like going to a neighborhood event,” he says.
Over the years, they have watched Billikens basketball shift. They watched the program rotate through seven coaches, four different conferences and four different stadiums.
But there’s one thing that didn’t change –– and that’s the manual stats keepers. Mraz calls their sustained presence "unique."
"I doubt that anybody puts up with people like us sitting there watching the game, writing things down on paper. But we've been doing it for a long time,” Mraz says before pausing.
There’s another voice in the background.
“My wife says they can’t get rid of us,” Mraz says, chuckling.
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