COLUMBIA — Brayden Page crouched against the outside wall of Mizzou Arena. He pulled his long sleeve Missouri shirt over his black athletic shorts, trying to shield himself from the chill that accompanies the start of basketball season. A bright, orange basketball rested next to him, a blank canvas soon to be covered with Sharpie signatures of the Missouri men’s basketball team.
Brayden went to his first Black and Gold Game on Thursday night as one of the 3,198 fans. The 9-year-old and his father, Justin Page, traveled from Boonville to arrive early. They wanted to make the most of the evening. So did junior college transfer Ricardo Ratliffe. Like Brayden, the junior forward took advantage of his first Black and Gold Game, leading all scorers with 32 points.
Before the game, Brayden navigated his way through the gauntlet of autograph seekers, making sure he got every player’s name on his basketball. Then, he directed his dad to the first row, midcourt seats.
“You might get sweat on you sitting this close,” Justin Page said.
With popcorn in hand, the third-grader waited for the start of the game. His work was finished. Ratliffe’s was just beginning.
Ratliffe wore a gold jersey for the game, the color of the losing team. The black squad claimed a 102-96 victory. The scrimmage was played in a loose, backyard style of basketball.
“It got kind of sloppy,” junior forward Laurence Bowers said. Bowers was a close second in scoring behind Ratliffe with 30 points.
The sloppy play resulted in 45 turnovers. However, through the haze of turnovers, Ratliffe continually put down shots, scoring on 12-of-16 attempts and making 8-of-11 free throws. Whether it was putting back one of his five offensive rebounds, scoring a layup in transition, or slamming home a dunk, any loose ball around the rim seemed to find Ratliffe’s grasp. Missouri coach Mike Anderson noticed.
“I think he’s a guy who’s a magnet to the ball,” Anderson said. “You can see he goes and gets the ball off the glass. That’s what good players do. If they are not getting touches or guys aren’t getting it to them, they will go get it.”
After the loss, Ratliffe downplayed any nerves he might have had before his first Black and Gold Game, but did say the fan attention at Missouri was more than he has previously known.
“I’m used to getting attention from fans, but it’s much bigger here. It’s like four times what I’m used to,” Ratliffe said.
Ratliffe said one fan he talked to while signing autographs could even recall his scoring statistics from his sophomore season with Central Florida Community College.