COLUMBIA — In a famous scene from the movie “Hoosiers,” Gene Hackman’s character, the coach of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team, pulls out a tape measure and instructs his players to measure the height of the basket’s rim inside Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse, where his team is preparing to play for the state championship. Hackman asks one of his players what the tape measure says.
“Ten feet,” he answers.
Missouri (4-1) at Vanderbilt (4-1)
WHEN: 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
“Same as our gym back at Hickory,” says Hackman, reminding his team of Indiana farm boys there’s nothing different about the court’s dimensions from their hometown gym.
It is uncertain whether Missouri coach Mike Anderson packed his own tape measure for the Tigers' trip Wednesday night to Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., one of college basketball's oddest stages, but Anderson is using the same perspective as coach Norman Dale (Hackman's character) in "Hoosiers."
“We’ll go over the day before and work out and shoot around, but it’s still a 94-by-50 feet arena," Anderson said. "The baskets are 10-feet high, I think. The key is put it in the hole. We didn’t put it in the hole (against) Richmond. Hopefully we’ll shoot it a little bit better.”
Calling a basketball court a stage is often done metaphorically, but here it’s true. Memorial Gym is unique for many reasons, one of them being the way the court is situated — as a stage, sitting above the first row of seats.
“I’ve never really seen anything like it,” guard J.T. Tiller said. “They say we’re playing on top of the fans, like the fans are actually looking up at us, so that should be a new experience.”
Tiller, known for his scrappy style, was asked if he would dive off the court.
“For a win, I would dive off that stage," he said.
The arena was built in 1952 as a combination gymnasium and concert hall. There are three tiers of bleachers parallel with the sidelines of the court, unusual for a basketball arena. Large banners bearing Vanderbilt’s colors (also black and gold) run up and down blocks of concrete that jut out of the arena’s four corners.
Hanging from the ceiling are sound panels that help give fans the feeling they're in a theater. Andy Boggs, Vanderbilt’s sports information director, said the sound scatters and bounces around the arena, making it extremely loud.
Missouri’s players likely won’t be able to hear Anderson, not just because of the noise created by the crowd. The teams’ benches are stationed on the baselines, near the corner of the court, meaning Anderson will be farther from his players.
“It’s unique. It’s very unique,” said Anderson, smiling. “When the guys are playing, you’re looking at them. Normally you’re on the sidelines and they’re looking at you. Now, they’re facing your basket, they’re looking right at you.”
Forward Laurence Bowers said the Tigers, who are looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season against Richmond last Saturday, will have to find a different way to communicate.
“That’s (the gym) real weird,” Bowers said. “I don’t think it will affect us, but we won’t be able to hear coach. So our point guards are going to have to be our coaches out there on the floor, even more verbal.”
Anderson, who has coached in the gym before, said it creates a unique feel.
“As you look out into the stands, it kind of gets a little dark in there,” he said. “It is different.”