Scrimmage sparks editor’s reminiscence of ’00 season

Brennan Stebbins

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.

That was my reaction when I ran into men’s basketball Head Coach Robert Corn and three players from the best basketball team Missouri Southern has ever had.

I’m speaking, of course, about the team that had a remarkable 30-3 record during the 1999-2000 season. The team that opened up the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center with an undefeated 18-0 home record. The team that won the MIAA and advanced to the national semifinals, coming within two points of the title game. The team that should have, and would have, brought home a championship trophy if not for one terrible call.

Yeah, I can’t believe it’s been 10 years, especially when I was standing face to face with Eddin Santiago, Terry Shumpert and Carlos Escalera during Homecoming festivities two weeks ago. Those players and several more were back in town to celebrate the anniversary of that season. I remember it well, but who doesn’t?

There was Santiago, the little sophomore guard who made a habit out of stealing the ball, streaking down court on a fast break and pulling up for a wide-open three-pointer.

Shumpert, another sophomore guard, seemed quieter but was one of the leading scorers.

Escalera was the most athletic player on the team and averaged 17 points per game as a sophomore guard. There were always rumors around town that North Carolina wanted to steal him away.

Of course, the centerpiece of it all – at least visually – was 6-foot-11 senior center Osiris Ricardo, who made a habit out of sitting under the basket with his large afro and waiting for a loose ball to put back with ease.

Everyone on that team is memorable.

Leo Gomes, Blake Bard, Brad Mann, Adam Babcock, Pieterbas DeWildt, David Ragland; and of course, nobody could forget Carlos Newberry, the senior who embodied everything good about that team.

I was in sixth grade that year, and remember distinctly the big games. There was the 76-61 win over Pittsburg State at home in January, and the 87-69 victory over the Gorillas in Pittsburg a month later. There was the overtime win against Washburn at home in March, when everyone knew the Lions were a lock for the playoffs.

My whole classroom at school listened on the radio as Southern knocked off Florida Southern by 10 points in the Elite Eight, despite being a heavy underdog. It came down to the semifinal game against Metro State.

Many thought, myself included, that Metro State was the best team left in the playoffs, aside from Southern. A win would almost guarantee a shiny new trophy.

Most of that game is a blur, ironically. It was broadcast locally on television, and I remember it came down to a frantic race to the finish.

With a few seconds left, Escalera and a Metro State player both went after a loose ball near midcourt. An incidental bump, a result of both players diving for the ball, led to a whistle and a foul on Escalera. Metro State shot the free throw and won the game 75-74. To call it disappointing is an understatement, and it was an unfortunate end to a remarkable run.

So when Corn said members of that team would be scrimmaging against his current basketball squad, I dropped all plans for the afternoon and made sure I was at Leggett & Platt. Only four of them actually played – Santiago, Escalera, Bard and Mann – and they took it easy on the current Lions. The behind the back passes were a step off, surely a result of not playing together for so long, but the talent was clearly still there.

I had my tape recorder ready to go for interviews after the scrimmage, but just seeing those guys on the court again together, just like 10 years ago, was more than enough. I decided I’d rather sit back and watch, just like I did during that 30-3 season.

In the end, that season and that team cemented Southern’s reputation as a basketball school. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.