COLUMBIA — You could tell by looking at him that he was a basketball player.
Dressed in baggy shorts and knee-high socks to match his all-black high tops and his team's T-shirt, Clay Flaugher fit right in with the members of the Missouri men's basketball team as they stepped onto Mizzou Arena's court.
"You guys ready to go to work?" Missouri coach Mike Anderson asked Flaugher and the 60 or so other Special Olympics athletes from around mid-Missouri who traveled to MU on Saturday morning for a basketball clinic.
As she watched her son get direction from Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll before a one-on-one battle, Flaugher's mom, Krista Flaugher, struggled to explain the significance of the moment.
"I can’t tell you how much it means," she said. "This is taking their time and their patience (and) their enthusiasm, and it’s just an honor for us to be with them.”
Clay Flaugher, who serves as the manager for his high school basketball team in Eldon, struggled to walk when he was younger, and for a long time he used a walker to help him get around.
"It’s so nice to see how far he’s come," Krista Flaugher said, noting that the clinic was the only thing her son had talked about for weeks.
Anderson said he had participated in similar events while coaching at the University of Arkansas and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“I’ve been wanting to do it, so it worked out where we could do it this year," Anderson said. "I’m glad we did. I think it’s great for our guys. I think it's great for the campers here. I think they’re enjoying it, and it’s amazing how much they bring out the personality and the smiles in our guys.”
The one-on-one station belonging to Carroll and Justin Safford was a good example of this.
Despite the fact that the players, both listed at 6-foot-8, towered over their pupils, they managed to find the right level on which to communicate with them and make them laugh.
“I’m not shocked, but I’m pleasantly surprised at how well they really are adapting to the variety of skills that the athletes are bringing to the table," said Diane Brimer, the central area director for the Special Olympics, as she watched Carroll and Safford at work. "That’s huge. I mean, that’s not easy because we have some Special Olympics coaches that aren’t that good.”
While Carroll was busy handing out nicknames, dubbing one man "Jimmy J" and another "Doug — the man with the plan," and counseling the offensive player, Safford did his best to inspire the defender, sometimes joking that the other player had been talking trash.
After quietly telling one young, particularly small girl what her much older opponent supposedly said about her, Safford spoke up for everyone to hear.
"I don't know, Becky; that's just what he told me," he said comically, drawing laughter from all the spectators within earshot.
“Trash talking and messing with them, I know that brings laughter to them," explained Carroll.
Safford said he had volunteered at Special Olympics events in high school and enjoyed the experience.
“They have a dream like everybody else," Safford said. "If it’s something like basketball that keeps them motivated and upbeat — just interacting with each other and the players — if it's something that they enjoy then we want to help them have that type of experience.
Carroll said he was impressed by the players' energy and love for the game.
Anderson said the clinic was partly about teaching basketball skills to the attendees and partly about teaching his players life lessons.
“I think they’re giving back," Anderson said. "I think more than anything they’re learning how to give, and they’re giving themselves."
Clay Flaugher said he learned about shooting, running and playing defense at the clinic but couldn't pinpoint his favorite part of the game.
He said he liked "everything" about basketball, his favorite sport. And when asked who his favorite player was, he had an equally democratic response.
“Everybody’s my favorite,” he said.