COLUMBIA – Breakable objects used to be in danger the second Laurence Bowers walked in the house.
Bowers has, and has always had, dangerously long arms.
Wednesday's Game: Missouri (18-7, 6-4 Big 12) vs. Texas (20-5, 6-4 Big 12)
When: 8 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
SERIES: Texas leads 11-10, MU won its last meeting 69-65 in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 4, 2009.
STEALS: The Tigers don't have the size to battle with Texas in the halfcourt and are equal in depth. Missouri needs to force freshman guard Avery Bradley and others to make mistakes it can convert into quick points.
COACH: Rick Barnes 12th season
LAST SEASON: 23-12 (9-7 Big 12)
THE SKINNY: No. 15 Texas is one of the most talented teams in the Big 12. UT is led by double-double machine Damion James and a bench that is third in the nation in scoring behind Missouri. UT has struggled in Big 12 play, losing two of its last three conference games.
FRONTCOURT DEPTH: Texas matches Missouri in depth, but it has the clear advantage in the front court. The Longhorns can use the size of players like 6-10 Dexter Pittman to exploit the only weak point in MU’s depth, its forwards.
DAMION JAMES: The 6-foot-7 forward is a rebounding machine. He is averaging 10.8 rebounds a game and is the leading rebounder in Big 12 history. He can score too, averaging 17.8 points a game.
TICKETS: SOLD OUT
“He’d knock over lampshades when he’d be playing with my kids," said Arlyn Bowers, Laurence Bowers' uncle who played under Missouri coach Mike Anderson at Arkansas. "Laurence was kind of on the goofy side for a long time.”
And his clumsiness earned him an unflattering nickname.
“I used to always break stuff,” said Laurence Bowers, a sophomore forward on the Missouri men’s basketball team. “My uncle called me ‘dummy’ because I used to always break stuff when I walked into his house.”
Arlyn Bowers said he got the nickname from Redd Foxx's character Fred Sanford on the TV show "Sanford and Son."
"He'd always call his son Lamont 'big dummy' when he'd do something wrong or break something," said Arlyn Bowers, laughing. "So that's the nickname I gave Laurence."
Mr. Fantastic might be the most fitting nickname. The comics superhero can stretch his body into any shape, and Laurence Bowers has made plenty of body-twisting plays that cause jaws to drop. He routinely bails out teammates by using his rubber-like arms to save a pass that’s several feet away from him.
A few games ago against Oklahoma State, he snatched a rebound above the basket in such a rapid and aggressive manner that his arm seemed mechanically programmed.
Laurence Bowers, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall, gets every inch out of his 7-foot-1 wingspan (wingspan and height are usually about equal). During games, he constantly hops around with his arms extended and almost always gets a hand on the ball.
Sometimes he tips the ball three or four times – his arms reaching a little higher than everyone else’s – before either tipping it to a teammate or corralling the rebound himself.
He extends his arms to their maximum reach, making it seem like they’re going to come out of the socket.
“He’s always got his hands touching the basketball,” teammate Steve Moore said. “He grabs some of the most difficult rebounds I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing to see.”
Laurence Bowers said his wingspan has always been greater than his height. But before he added some meat and muscle to his still relatively skinny frame, his stretchy arms made him look funny.
“I had to grow into them,” said Laurence Bowers, whose fingers are nearly even with his knees when he rests his arms at his side. “There was a time where I was real goofy. Like a slinky or something like that. I finally grew into them, and now I use them to my advantage.
“I was so skinny with long arms and a big head, so they used to call me a little airhead.”
His head was so big that he couldn't fit it through the collar of his shirts.
“His momma had to buy him all zip-up shirts or button-up," Arlyn Bowers said. "He’d stretch all his shirts out. Just a regular crewneck shirt, he couldn’t pull one of those shirts over his head.
“He had to get custom-fit shirts because his arms were so long.”
Until Arlyn Bowers helped custom-shape his nephew's game, Laurence Bowers was just a regular player who happened to be tall.
“He just played basketball, but he actually didn’t know the game until I actually started teaching him the game and showing him why he was so goofy, working with him on his footwork," Arlyn Bowers said. "He kind of grew on it then.”
Now, his long limbs give him an edge in several aspects of the game, and he has become Missouri's leading rebounder.
“Rebounding, just touching the ball wherever, deflecting passes, altering shots,” Laurence Bowers said. “I think I’ve got a pretty high release when I shoot the ball. I don’t really get my shot blocked that much. And also to dunk the ball because I don’t have the best vertical leap, but by being so long, I can dunk the ball pretty easy.”
He is most excited about the dunking part. Anderson has called him a “highlight waiting to happen” on multiple occasions, and Laurence Bowers supports the label. He has had dunks where he whips his arms around like a windmill before slamming the ball through the hoop. He no doubt leads the team in alley-oop dunks, often extending his arms in mid-air to snare off-the-mark passes.
Keeping his hands away from the ball is next to impossible. His teammates have found that out during practice and often use questionable tactics to deal with his hazardous arms.
“I just push him out of the way,” forward Keith Ramsey said. “I don’t let him do that because I know coach won’t call it. So I just push him out of the way.”