When men’s basketball player Scott Combs decided to transfer from Missouri in 1996, he had no idea his life would continue to return back to Columbia.
After transferring to Austin Peay State, Combs has returned to Columbia in two different roles. He has played against Missouri and now he will be coaching. At 2 p.m. Sunday the Missouri men’s basketball (8-3) will face Austin Peay State (8-5) at home. Combs will be taking his seat on the bench for the second time since 2002 as an assistant coach for the Governors. It has been a long journey for Combs, but the path has shaped who he is as a coach today.
Combs first arrived at Missouri in 1994 as the runner up-Indiana Mr. Basketball and the record holder for scoring at Paoli High School in Lebanon, Ind. He chose the Tigers over Butler with the hope of making an impact on a team that had lost several players from its Elite Eight run the year before.
“I just really felt comfortable with the coaching staff and group of guys and I wanted to play at the highest level possible, and I got my chance,” Combs said. “To get a start at Colorado and score 11 points against Kansas, and to play in the NCAA tournament…my decision was validated by all that.”
In that time, Combs was a part of a Missouri team that in 1995 lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament on a memorable last-second basket by UCLA. It was an event that former teammate Kendrick Moore said they still talk about to this day.
“We reminisce all the time, especially our freshman year,” Moore said. “You can’t forget the play (against UCLA), every year they show the same highlight and it makes you sick to your stomach.”
However, after his sophomore year Combs made one of the toughest decisions of his life - to transfer to Austin Peay State. The school offered him a chance to still play against Division One schools but also to receive more playing time. Combs said it was a decision he didn’t take lightly.
“The decision to transfer came when I saw who they (Missouri) wanted to start, and I wanted to play more,” Combs said. “I didn’t have to leave, but at times I look back wishing I would have stayed, but I also wanted to play.”
Combs’ received more playing time, and averaged 6.8 points a game. After graduating, he had the chance to extend his basketball career as an assistant under Austin Peay State coach Dave Loos in 2002. Combs took the coaching job as a chance to pass on the knowledge he had learned and stay involved in the game. Moore said coaching was the perfect fit for Combs. He was a fundamentally sound player and understood how to teach the game.
“One of the things about Scott is his Indiana hospitality and great attitude,” Moore said. “He can apply that to the game and I’m sure that the players appreciate that.”
Combs points to his experiences studying under both coach Norm Stewart and Loos as building blocks to his coaching style today. If at some point during the game Combs is seen making a speech to rally the team it is because of his time spent with Stewart.
“The ability to rally the troops and communicate effectively is something I try to take from coach Norm Stewart,” Combs said. “His confidence is something that you don’t see out there that much.”
Then there is the experience he gained playing in the post season. Moore is one of only a handful of people to play and coach in both the NCAA Tournament and NIT. He said those experiences have taught him the work it takes to make it to the post season.
“Post-season play as a player is the ultimate goal, and I appreciate the NCAA and playing in the NIT. And just the history of both of those tournaments is something I’ll never forget,” Combs said. “It is really something special to sit on the bench and know you are competing with the best.”
Combs said it has taken a few years to get the Tigers on their schedule. The coaching staff has called and persuaded Missouri on the recruiting trail to schedule this game. Once it was finalized, Combs couldn’t help but get excited at a chance to go back to where it all began.
“When a game starts developing you do get kind of excited, especially when it is somewhere you played at,” Combs said. “Each year we put in some calls, but to play at Mizzou is really something special because it does kind of bring me home.”