Dennis Gates can tell you all about Missouri basketball lore. The Tigers head coach, who has described himself as a “college basketball expert,” is more than happy to do so anytime, reciting the names of every MU coach starting with Norm Stewart at the slightest provocation.
It’s not just a press conference show. Gates drilled the program’s history into his players.
“What he says to you guys, he says to us,” guard Sean East said Friday. “It’s the same everywhere. He’s big on culture, big on bringing everything back, going back to how it was. It starts with us, then you guys and everyone else he sees and meets.
Gates’ respect for Missouri’s past has been evident from the early days of his tenure. During the team’s first public appearance of 2022-23 Mizzou Madness, held at an outdoor field on campus, Stewart himself showed up, riding a golf cart and helping judge a children’s dunk contest on toy baskets .
On Saturday, the Tigers are bringing back another piece of Missouri heritage, with throwback uniforms, similar to those worn from 1973 to 1996. The kit was unveiled Wednesday in a social media video featuring highlights from the Stewart era and will be worn against Iowa State, Mizzou’s old Big Eight/Big 12 rival.
According to Gates, it was the MU faithful who suggested the look.
“We heard the fans loud and clear,” Gates said. “I think initially, once I got this job, there was a conversation about these M-block shirts, and I feel the same way. I really feel that the uniform holds a special place in connecting our show with our fans, but also the success we had at its peak.”
He made the effort to spread his excitement about those times with his team. Back when MU was still in the Big 12 and the Iowa State game was played regularly, most of the current Tigers were in elementary school.
East, who joined the program as a transfer this season, said he wasn’t familiar with what things were like in the old days. However, he has tried to do his own research and read up on old rivalries.
Around the program, he also has some former players who can answer any questions about the importance of the game
“I just try to ask old players like Phil (Pressey), Laurence (Bowers),” East said. “They tell me what the meaning is.”
Jerseys aren’t the only throwback celebration happening on Saturday. It’s alumni weekend in Columbia, and alumni of the program are welcome to attend.
Gates doesn’t just attract former players. He wants everyone back.
“We also need to welcome ex-managers, ex-managers, ex-coaches,” Gates said. “It takes a village to run a basketball program, so former ushers, former ones working the table. It’s a community here and I want to welcome back not only our players, but all those people who have contributed to making this place special, from the administration to the former janitors.”
Gates’ quest to revitalize the program has been successful so far. Mizzou Arena is abuzz every game night, with frequent sellouts, including Saturday’s matchup.
Maybe it’s the fans who buy Gates and his appeal to tradition. Alternatively, maybe it’s just that the Tigers are winning games.
Missouri currently sits 15-5 on the season, one year after winning just 12 games total. Adding another win against an old rival won’t be easy, with the Cyclones entering 12th in the Associated Press media poll and 13th in the coaches’ poll.
Iowa State plays in an opposite style to Missouri’s fast-paced offense, preferring to slow down the game. Gates responded with a laugh Friday when asked what helps a team set the pace.
“The same as dictating (whether) a coach is good at X and O,” Gates said. “If the ball goes in. I think it’s important that regardless of his style of play or what we play, we both want to see the ball go in.”
Recently, it’s been that simple for MU. In the win over Ole Miss, the Tigers made over 55% of their field goals and won.
In losses to Texas A&M, Florida and Alabama, they made just 35.6%, 41.7%, and 32.9%, respectively. The Ole Miss game, Missouri’s first SEC road win of the year, represented a turnaround that Gates and company hope can continue at home, in a game with NCAA Tournament implications.
The Tigers are likely to be without regular Three Gomillion starter due to a groin injury which kept him out at Oxford. However, they will have a sellout crowd on their side for the 1:00 p.m. game, which airs on ESPN2.
“I’m just doing my best here to give our tradition an opportunity to reclaim itself,” Gates said. “I have a dream, which is one I’ve shared, to be a Hall of Fame coach. And to be so, certain checkpoints must be reached. And this is a great opportunity for all of us.”
The Star partnered with the Columbia Daily Tribune for their coverage of Missouri Tigers athletics.