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'Antique hoopsters' help Columbia College men's basketball player improve game

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | 7:02 p.m. CST; updated 7:39 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Greg Stegemen, a forward for the Columbia College basketball team, laughs as Dean Baxter, center, and Bob Bryant prepare to shoot baskets on Monday at Columbia College. Stegemen said that he stumbled upon Baxter and Bryant playing in the arena one day after class more than a year ago, and he decided to join them for their early morning shoot arounds.

COLUMBIA — Dean Baxter shot what looked like a regular free throw. The ball swished through the net, bounced back toward him standing at the free-throw line, and began to roll.

As the ball slowed, it rolled through Baxter's legs. He exclaimed "Five points!"

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Baxter, 75, explained that the normal looking free throw he made was actually worth five points: one point for making the shot, one for making it without hitting the rim, one for retrieving the ball while it was still in the lane, one for not having to move to retrieve it and one more for having it roll through his legs.

Five-point free throws is just one of the interesting games Baxter and his friends Bob Bryant, 71, and Gary Filbert, 81, invented and have been playing since they stopped playing in an over-60 league in St. Louis seven years ago.

For Columbia College basketball player Greg Stegeman, all it took for him to make a drastic improvement in his free-throw shooting was learning how to make this five-point shot from the three self-proclaimed 'antique hoopsters.'

Stegeman began playing basketball with the three men in October of 2009 when he saw them shooting around at the Arena at Southwell Complex at Columbia College.

After a chat and some shooting before class that day, the men invited Stegeman to come back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to keep shooting with them.

“From there it became a constant thing,” Stegeman said. “This year especially, they kind of took me under their wing and helped me out a lot.”

The men have been coming to Southwell Complex three days a week for the past seven years to play basketball, mainly because of a connection between Filbert and Cougars basketball coach Bob Burchard. Filbert hired Burchard as an assistant when Filbert was the head coach at Missouri Western State College in 1981 and they have remained friends since.

Filbert, a former MU assistant basketball coach, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June, so he hasn't been able to play with his three friends for the past six months. Bryant and Baxter say Filbert is resting at his home in Columbia, but is not physically able to come out to shoot with them anymore.

The others have pressed on, though. The men have used their workouts this year to help Stegeman work on shooting free throws, mid-range jump shots and 3-pointers.

The numbers Stegeman is putting up this season prove that the five-point free throws haven't just been fun, but also beneficial. After shooting 60 percent from the line during his sophomore season, Stegeman improved to 73 percent last season and is up to 92 percent from the line this year.

Stegeman struggled to score at the beginning of this season, but he has responded to improve his field goal percentage to 49 percent this year from 44 percent in his sophomore and junior years, while helping the Cougars to a 9-1 start.

"We don't try and mess with what he (Stegeman) does on the court," Baxter said. "We just try to have a fun time."

Although they don't want to take too much credit, the men have helped Stegeman's game in the past two seasons. While they don't tell him specifically what to fix, Stegeman feels that the morning shoot-arounds have improved his game.

“They have helped my confidence a lot and helped me have fun just playing the game,” Stegeman said.

In the seven years the men have been having morning shoot-arounds at Columbia College, Stegeman is the athlete who connected with the men the most and the only one to consistently join them on the court.

“Bob (Bryant) invites everyone to play with us," Baxter said with a chuckle. "I guess he’s got something like a 1-in-100 success rate.”

For a college player to connect so well with players so much older than him might seem odd, but Stegeman doesn't see it that way.

"It's just fun," Stegeman said. "It helps my shot and these guys are great so I don't know why I wouldn't do it."

As Stegeman's career as a Cougar winds down, he plans to continue playing basketball with the 'antique hoopsters' as long as he stays in Columbia.

"He's a great kid," Baxter said. "We love having him here playing with us."


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