Former Missouri players reunite at Show-Me State Games basketball competition

Sunday, August 2, 2009 | 9:00 p.m. CDT; updated 11:44 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 3, 2009

COLUMBIA — More than a decade ago, they could be seen on the hardwood court at Hearnes Center in front of 14,000 screaming fans.

But on Sunday afternoon, Jason Sutherland, Greg Church and Julian Winfield found themselves at a much smaller venue, playing at the Oakland Junior high school gym. About 30 spectators watched the three players jog out to the court sporting dark green jerseys and casual gym shorts. On the front of the jersey was the name "Willies."

The former Missouri players reunited at the Show-Me State Games and played in the 30 and over men's basketball competition. They have played together five times at the Games since graduating from Missouri.

Sutherland, a former Missouri point guard, played from 1993-1997, as did Winfield. Church played for the Tigers from 1985-1989 and was the team captain his senior year.

They played in the championship game Sunday against "30 Something," a team with another former Tiger, Corey Tate, who played with Sutherland and Winfield for three years.

Church said he still enjoys the competition at the Games and he will play as long as he can.

"I am 42 years old and my body gets sore after games," Church said. "After college, some guys decide to move on and never touch the ball again. I just enjoy playing."

It was evident on the court. He was very aggressive, cutting under the basket and making some contact with players underneath the goal.

On a play in the second half, Church caught the ball a few feet from the basket and cut toward it for a layup attempt. He bumped chests with a player on the other team and the referee called a charging foul.

Church's face turned red, and it was evident he was displeased with the call.

"Oh, you have to be kidding, that was a terrible call," Church shouted.

The referee gave him a technical foul, and Church walked off the court and sat of the bench, slinging his jersey over his head.

When Winfield comes back to Columbia to play with his former teammates, he said they often talk about defining moments of their time playing at MU.

"We always talk about stories about Norm (Stewart), how he would get us fired up before games," Winfield said. "This is event where can be like a family again when we played for MU."

Tate not only plays basketball, he coaches as well. He has coached for 10 years for Mineral Area College in Park Hills.

Tate's team ended up winning the gold medals, edging the Willie's 92-82.

After the game, Tate went up to his former teammates and shook their hands and patted them on the back. Despite the players going their separate ways after graduating, Tate said he enjoys getting on the court with his former teammates.

"Everyone took their own routes in life," Tate said. "But we are like distant brothers, and I still feel like we are a family."

Sutherland and Church play together in a recreational league every winter in Columbia and they took that same team to the Show-Me State Games.

"I like to come back and play good teams in a competitive atmosphere." Sutherland said. "I want to hang in there and do this as long as my body will hold up. We like to get together and catch up with each other."

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