COLUMBIA, Mo. • In 1992, Norm Stewart took his Missouri basketball team to College Station, Texas, for a nonconference game against Texas A&M, whose staff included a 27-year-old assistant named Frank Haith.
Little did they know they’d cross paths a generation later, Stewart in retirement and Haith as the third successor to the Hall of Fame coach.
Sitting alongside each other Tuesday in Mizzou Arena, home of the court that bears Stewart’s name, the coaches strolled down memory lane and arrived at that Texas A&M game, an 81-55 Tigers victory.
“The dog was barking at you the whole game,” Haith said, referring to the Aggies’ live mascot, Reveille. “Remember that little dog barking?”
“Sure,” Stewart said. “The story in my family is that … my son was playing at Rice. They were playing at Texas A&M and Reveille bit him. Well, he didn’t. But that’s the advantage of being older. Stories get better as you tell them.”
Stewart has endless stories to tell about his 1993-94 Missouri team — the season after he beat Haith, Reveille and the Aggies — and Haith has made sure the spotlight shines on that historic team as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
This summer, Haith came up with the idea to host an exhibition game at Hearnes Center, where MU last played in 2004, and use the occasion to honor Stewart’s Big Eight championship team, which went 14-0 in conference play.
The plan will come to fruition Friday night when the Tigers host Oklahoma City University at 7 p.m. in what’s being billed as a throwback game. Stewart and every member of the 1993-94 team will be on hand for a pregame ceremony, while Haith’s current team will wear uniforms from that championship season.
Doors open at 5:30 — parking and admission are free — and players from the 1993-94 team will sign autographs in the Hearnes concourse until 6:30. Among the standout players from that team are Melvin Booker, Jevon Crudup, Kelly Thames, Paul O’Liney and Lamont Frazier, who will serve as radio analyst on the Tiger Radio Network. Missouri has made sure every player and student manager from that team will be on hand for the celebration.
At last week’s SEC media days in Birmingham, Ala., Haith said he initially had to twist Stewart’s arm to get involved with the program when he first arrived at Mizzou, but they have since struck up a strong relationship, one former coaches Quin Snyder and Mike Anderson never seemed to develop with the coaching icon.
“I have a lot of admiration and respect for Coach Stewart,” Haith said, “and to have an opportunity to honor him and his team on that day is really, really special for me.”
Before the 1993-94 team began its sweep through the Big Eight, Stewart’s Tigers suffered a 52-point loss at Arkansas, then pulled off a triple-overtime win over Illinois in St. Louis. The team eventually fell to Arizona in regional play in the NCAA Tournament, but as he watched Haith’s first Mizzou team, in 2011-12, he found some common threads with his 28-4 team from 20 years ago.
“They were small in stature and could shoot it,” said Stewart, who won 631 games at Mizzou from 1967-99.
As they discussed the throwback game at Tuesday’s news conference, Stewart’s presence seemed cathartic for Haith, who minutes earlier addressed his five-game suspension levied by the NCAA for his role in the University of Miami scandal.
But he was all smiles discussing Friday’s game, which is as much Haith’s gift to Stewart as anything else.
“Coach has been a confidante,” Haith said.
Haith recalled that during his first season at Missouri he called Stewart in the middle of a winning streak.
“We won, I don’t know, five or six games in a row,” Haith said. “And he blew me out because I called him. He said, ‘What in the hell are you doing? You’re winning games now. Why are you calling me? Don’t jinx yourself.’”
Without missing a beat, Stewart quipped, “You got beat the next game.”
“No I did not,” Haith said. “But I learned not to call someone or do anything different if you’re winning games, you keep everything the same.”
“It’s great when you take up a program that has someone who’s meant so much to the university to still be around and support you,” Haith added. “That’s what he’s meant to me.”