The U.S. Basketball Writers Association has made the Missouri Athletic Club its home for the foreseeable future of its annual awards dinner, and that is a sweeter treat for St. Louis than those tiny cinnamon rolls the MAC serves before dinner.
Where else can you hear from Tennessee coach Rick Barnes (Henry Iba Award), Iowa star Megan Gustafson (Ann Meyers Drysdale Award) and former Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson (Good Guy Award) in the same evening?
Oh, and don’t forget some guy named Zion Williamson. The Duke freshman who dropped the jaw of college basketball was in attendance to accept his awards, plural. Shortly after declaring for the NBA draft, Williamson was handed the hardware for both the Oscar Robertson Trophy and the Wayman Tisdale Award. His list of accomplishments is now too long to print here, but this one stands out. The only other freshmen to win the Oscar Robertson Trophy? Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. Good company, right?
“This is better than a dream,” the soon-to-be lottery pick said.
No evening can compare to Zion's one-and-done college season. Monday night at MAC was a fitting finish line, though. Here are some of the highlights from the festivities:
• Williamson cleared up speculation about the location of his now-famous broken Nike. He confirmed it is in the possession of his parents.
• Williamson shared that he studies Michael Jordan because his goal is to be the greatest player, so he studies the greatest player. Barnes jumped in on that one. “You know (North Carolina coach) Roy Williams is going to use that quote if he gets ahold of it.”
• Before the 6-foot-3 Gustafson dominated women’s college basketball, the All-American played for her school’s eighth-grade boys’ team in tiny Port Wing, Wisconsin. Population: 164. Yes, she was the leading rebounder then, too. She shared that an opposing coach once claimed she was being too rough on the boys. “So watch out Zion,” Gustafson said, drawing cheers.
• St. Louis University coach Travis Ford admitted he was “sore for a few days” after his picturesque dive into the Billikens’ dog pile after SLU’s remarkable run to the A-10 tournament championship. He also had a tidbit that should make SLU fans smile. Ford compared incoming freshman guard Yuri Collins (St. Mary’s) to “a 6-foot-1 Russell Westbrook” in how Collins handles the ball and attacks the rim and maximizes ball screens.
• Barnes gave ringing endorsements of both Ford, whom he coached against when Ford was at Oklahoma State, and Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin. On Ford: “He and I share one thing. We both got fired. But we landed on our feet pretty good.” On Martin: “I’m a big Cuonzo fan. Terrific coach. Better person. What I love about him is, he loves this game. He wants to make the game better for everyone involved in it. Hard worker. Wonderful person. He’s doing great things at Missouri. I know from my days in the Big 12 the kind of basketball tradition Missouri has. Missouri is lucky to have him. He’s going to do a great job. He’s doing a great job.”
• Duke assistant coach Chris Carrawell accompanied Williamson’s family to the dinner, giving the former Cardinal Ritter Prep star and state champ a chance to spend some time in his hometown. The former two-time All-ACC selection as a Blue Devil just finished his first season as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff.
• Hinson, the recipient of the Good Guy Award for his accessibility to sports scribes over the years, gave a speech so hilarious and moving that it can’t be printed here, because it would be taken out of context, and the point — to inspire and motivate those around you, always — would be warped. He said he told Southern Illinois leadership before the season that he would step down if he did not make the NCAA tournament or the NIT. “I did not tell anybody that,” he said Monday night. “I told my wife the month before the season concluded. I did not tell my players, nor did I tell my staff. It was absolutely the most ... ignorant thing that I’ve ever done in my life.” The crowd howled, and Hinson was rolling. Somebody get this man a podcast, please.