COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri-Kansas Border War basketball rivalry is back on, and while the only games in the upcoming series currently with dates are the first and last meetings in Kansas City, in 2020 and 2025, respectively, next year's game on Dec. 12 will come within 10 days of Mizzou’s Braggin’ Rights Game against Illinois in St. Louis.
Mizzou and Illinois extended the series last year, keeping the annual game at Enterprise Center through the 2023-24 season. According to the series contract, that game must always be held between the dates of Dec. 19 and 22. Unlike the Braggin’ Rights Game, the designated home team in the MU-KU series will control the bulk of the tickets in the two Kansas City games. KU is the home team next year while MU is the home team for the 2025 game. MU and Illinois split the seats evenly every year in St. Louis.
Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t mind playing two intense rivalry games so close together on the calendar.
“I think it's great,” he said, “When you’re able to prepare for those level of games and have that level of energy and passion and intensity in the month of December I think it’s great. On a side note, the ACC, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 are going to 20 games in league play, so it’s very similar to what they're doing.”
Meeting with reporters Thursday, Martin downplayed his role and his relationship with Kansas’ Bill Self in bringing the Border War back to life. Instead, he pointed to their respective bosses.
“I think more than anything you have to give credit to (MU athletics director) Jim Sterk,” Martin said Thursday. “We look forward to (the rivalry game) as a program, I think our fan base, our guys are excited about it, even former players. We're excited about the opportunity to be a part of it again. If you're talking Big Eight, Big 12 rivalries, it’s a great game.”
On Monday, Sterk and Kansas AD Jeff Long met in Kansas City to hammer out the six-year agreement to revive the Border War with games set for Kansas City, Lawrence, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., starting in in Kansas City in December 2020. The longtime archrivals haven’t met in a regular-season game since 2012, Missouri’s final year in the Big 12. Two years ago, Martin’s first season at Mizzou, the Tigers and Jayhawks met in a preseason charity exhibition, a game in Kansas City that sold out in less than an hour and raised $2 million for hurricane relief.
“Obviously there was a lot of talk about that game (that it) will probably never take place again,” Martin said. “So you have to give credit to both sides for making it happen. And I think our fans should be excited, just like they should be excited, in my opinion, for every game that we play here because it’s Mizzou basketball.”
While Self was always seen as the last line of defense in the way of making this series possible, Martin said they never talked about it when they’d cross paths.
“I respect Bill, and Bill has done a tremendous job with his program,” Martin said “I would like to think he at some point had to agree (to) let’s make this happen.”
“Oftentimes when coaches get together,” he added, “it's amazing that the last thing we're talking about is basketball. You know it’s more about families, ‘How are your guys doing? Are you healthy.’ That’s assumed (we talked about playing,) but not at all.”
Self’s stance has changed dramatically since the teams last met in Kansas City two years ago.
“I'm actually excited about it,” he told reporters at Big 12 media days Wednesday in Kansas City. “I miss the game. I miss the energy. I miss the fans' hatred for one another, which doesn't pass down to coaches or players, but certainly that interest level, which is very evident by selling this place out in 41 minutes in 2017, I believe, is something that kids go to college to play in games like that.”
The MU-KU series will not be part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge, Martin confirmed. After a five-year hiatus from the annual cross-conference event, Mizzou is back in the mix this year and next, playing at West Virginia on Jan. 25.
Having tasted the Border War at the 2017 exhibition game, Martin said he expects the same kind of electric atmosphere when the teams tip off next Dec. 15. Otherwise, with his team’s season getting closer, he was reluctant to talk too much about a game that’s more than a year away. He stopped short of making the KU game any bigger than any other game on the Tigers’ schedule.
“I’d like to think every game we play in (Mizzou Arena) means the same because you support your home team,” he said. “I think that's the most important thing for me.”
“I think both are highly regarded programs,” he added. “I think it's beneficial for both programs. I'll leave it at that. And then when we see them we’ll see them.”
Martin shuffled a couple roles on his staff, promoting Marco Harris to assistant coach while former assistant Michael Porter Sr. now serves as director of player development, Harris’ former role. In his new capacity, Harris will be allowed to recruit outside of Columbia.
Harris, a childhood friend of Martin’s from East St. Louis, first joined his staff at Tennessee in 2011 as director of operations and held the same role at California then became director of player development at Mizzou two years ago.
Porter, the father of former Mizzou players Micahel Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter, left the University of Washington’s staff two years ago to work under Martin, after which both sons committed to Mizzou. Porter is entering the final year of his three-year contract. He previously worked on the MU women’s basketball staff under coach Robin Pingeton, his sister-in-law.
“It’s just what I felt like what was needed,” Martin said. “Coach Porter’s still vital to what we do as far as his teaching, his ability to bring life and wisdom into the program. There’s a lot of value to that. We won't skip a beat.”
Before working with Martin, Harris coached Booker T. Washington High School to an Oklahoma state championship in 2011.
“He’s put the work in,” Martin said.
SNUBBED IN SEC POLL?
Martin was surprised Missouri was picked to finish 13th in the 14-team SEC by a panel of media voters. As the head coach, it didn’t bother him, he said. Were he a player on the team? That’s a different story.
“For me, it doesn't change,” he said. “Now if I was in a uniform I’d have a different answer for you. It’s one of those things Coach (Gene) Keady would have to say to me, ‘Don't wait the sleeping bear and say the wrong thing.’ He’d give me a heads-up before walking in here so I have to be careful in how I answer that question.”
Naturally, he doesn’t agree with the preseason poll.
“If we finish 13th in this league then this would be one of the best leagues ever to lace them up in all of college basketball,” he said. “If we’re healthy and finish 13th then this will be one of the best leagues in all of college basketball.”
You can bet he’ll remind his players of the No. 13 in practice — if he hasn’t already.
“We already have guys that are hungry,” he said. “That didn’t change anything just because somebody said you’re 13. I can use that as motivation here and there if need to, I think.”
Martin was more disappointed the preseason All-SEC first and second teams didn’t include center Jeremiah Tilmon. Without naming names, he wasn’t thrilled that freshmen made the cut instead. Georgia’s Anthony Edwards made the first team while Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey was a second-team choice.
“I think the biggest thing when you rank first and second teams and you don't have Jeremiah mentioned, that part I don't understand because … he’s a very productive guy,” Martin said. “It always amazes me when you rank guys who even though they’re very talented have never shot a ball, never played a game. I never understood that part either. But I don't get consumed with that because it’s a lot of time and energy off my clock.”
Junior guard Mark Smith is fully participating in practice, Martin said. Smith missed the bulk of conference play with a foot injury that required surgery late in the season. He had been limited in drills during the summer and early fall practices. … Junior college transfer center Axel Okongo has received another year of eligibility, giving him two seasons to play for the Tigers, Martin said. ... Mizzou will host Creighton in a closed scrimmage on Saturday. Creighton was picked seventh in the Big East coaches’ preseason poll. MU has one exhibition game, home against Central Missouri on Nov. 1. “We’re ready to play somebody else,” Martin said.