COLUMBIA — When Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith reflects on the trip he took to Joplin only days after the devastating May 22 tornado hit, he remembers seeing a closet full of clothes standing out in the open with no house around it.
“It was just an eerie feeling,” Haith said. “Right when we got into town, it was amazing seeing buildings just flat-lined.”
Missouri (23-11 last season)
at Missouri Southern State (26-5 last season)
WHEN: 5:47 p.m.
WHERE: Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, Joplin
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
He traveled with others from the MU athletics department to visit Joplin and described the silence that came over the group as it traveled through the worst areas. He was shocked by the difference between seeing the destruction in pictures and seeing it in person.
During that trip, Haith brought donations of baby formula, diapers, bottled water and stuffed animals that had been collected at Hearnes Center. He also spent time visiting with people in the effected areas.
“The biggest shelter we went to was the one at Missouri Southern on their campus,” Haith said. “(Seeing) the young people there not having parents and not knowing, that stands out in my mind.”
On Sunday, Haith will visit Joplin again to coach the Tigers against Missouri Southern State University in the One State, One Spirit Classic. It will be Haith’s first opportunity to coach the Tigers away from Mizzou Arena.
The exhibition game will start at 5:47 p.m. at the Leggett and Platt Athletic Center after a moment of silence is observed at 5:41 p.m., the official time the tornado struck Joplin. Desi Hickman, a tornado survivor and recent MSSU graduate, will sing the national anthem. The game will be televised starting at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU. Money raised from ticket sales will be donated to relief efforts for MSSU students, staff and faculty.
Steve Moore, a center for the Missouri basketball team, said he’s been in deep prayer for Joplin and is looking forward to the chance to visit the city.
“We’re going to compete and try to make it a fun environment and just pay our respects to what happened down there and just be grateful,” Moore said. “Because you just don’t know when something like that could happen to you.”
Haith compared the damage from the hurricanes he experienced in Miami to the damage he saw while in Joplin.
“While I was there (in Miami), I think Katrina hit, and we had some destruction there, but the only thing we lost was power,” Haith said. “Some people had damage to their homes, but that’s totally on a whole other level.”
Junior guard Michael Dixon, Jr. said he’s never been to Joplin, but he’s excited for the experience.
“We’ve been itching to play a game,” Dixon said. “It’s always good to get out and play against somebody else.”
Senior guard Kim English said the team will bring excellence to Joplin as a way to give back.
"Basketball is basketball, whether it’s for Joplin or practice or a national championship," English said. "We can give our talents. We can give our popularity in the state to draw a crowd for this game and give back in that way."
Haith sees the upcoming game not only as an opportunity for the team to play someone else but also as a teaching tool.
“As coaches, we want to teach our kids more than just how to dribble a basketball. This is a life skill and a life lesson,” Haith said. “I think our guys being a part of this and understanding why we’re going and what we’re doing is important.”