COLUMBIA — Although the Missouri men's basketball team came a win away from making the NCAA's Final Four, Missouri was still represented in Detroit.
Missouri’s club men's basketball team won the National Collegiate Championship Series tournament on Sunday at Cobo Hall in Detroit, which was turned into “Hoops City” for the Final Four. The MU club team defeated the University of Georgia’s club team 54-44 in the finals.
The tournament featured eight teams who qualified for the finals by winning regional tournaments. At the outset there were more than 250 teams vying for the title. Missouri's team started its journey in the intramural league at the MU Student Recreation Complex.
A year-and-a-half ago, MU senior Ryan Clark heard about the regional tournament at MU and helped three intramural teams combine their best players into to enter the event. The team won the regional tournament, but lost to Ivy Tech Community College from Evansville, Ind., in the national semifinals.
During the next year, the team worked to improve and became close friends in the process. The team does not have a coach, but senior Tyler Jenkins, who won the NCCS Most Valuable Player award at this year's tournament, said friendships among the players made this unimportant.
“A lot of the teams had coaches,” Jenkins said. “We didn’t even have a coach. It was us talking and working out problems. If we weren’t such good of friends, we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did.”Without a coach, funding for the team was difficult. There was no regional tournament in Missouri this year, so the team knew they had to consider travel expenses. Intramural tournaments sometimes award prize money to put towards competing at other tournaments. The team won the Illinois Invitational, which paid enough to go to the regional tournament in Miami, Ohio, which was the closest regional tournament.
“Pretty much every tournament we won was paying for the next tournament,” Missouri junior Jake Huber said.
The team won the Miami, Ohio regional tournament to earn $2,500, which was enough to pay for a trip to this year's NCCS tournament. The team hadn’t lost a game since the loss to Ivy Tech.
In the first round of pool play, the team's confidence took a hit in a 64-54 loss to University of Georgia.
“The first thought was shock,” Clark said. “It was the first loss we had in over a year. We all talked after it and said it was probably a good wake up call to get us back on track. We knew we had to win the last two games by a good amount of points.”
The team dominated the rest of pool play, defeating University of Texas-San Antonio 66-46 in the semifinals, setting up a rematch with Georgia in the final.
“We knew that if we saw them again, we had a really good chance of beating them,” Jenkins said.
After the 10-point victory, the team got to cut down the nets on a court that was a replica to the actual Final Four court.
“We knew it was club, but it was awesome,” Jenkins said.