COLUMBIA — Tyler Stone began his college basketball career at 17 as a Missouri Tiger.
Two years later, he restarted that college basketball career in the same gym, under the same lights, with many of the same players on the court.
But he did so as a different player, a different man.
The sophomore transferred to Southeast Missouri State after his freshman year and returned in the season opener at Mizzou Arena on Friday. While sitting out a season per NCAA rules, Stone grew from an immature boy with a chip on his shoulder into a disciplined leader.
He won the opening tipoff over Ricardo Ratliffe and opened the game with a layup. He responded to his teammate Marland Smith's three-point shot with a dunk of his own, sparking the Redhawks to a 6-0 run to begin their season opener against the Tigers on Friday.
It was about that time Missouri wished it hadn’t let the 6-foot-7-inch forward go. Stone played 37 minutes and led the Redhawks with 18 points and six rebounds.
But Stone’s journey away from the Tigers led him to a place where he learned discipline and a place he could call home.
As his freshman year at MU came to an end, Stone learned there was no scholarship for him the next season. He came back to Mizzou Arena playing against coach Frank Haith, not Mike Anderson, who had let him go.
"Yes, I mean, what player wouldn’t want to come back and play a coach he left from?" Stone said. "But he didn’t make the team. It was coming back and playing these guys."
Missouri's players couldn't leave him alone after SEMO's 83-68 loss to Missouri on Friday night. His welcome from Missouri was warm.
Athletic director Mike Alden patted his forearm as he walked by. Senior Laurence Bowers yelled out "T-Stone!" as he hobbled toward him. Senior Kim English went in for a bear hug, and he and junior Michael Dixon stood with Stone as he did interviews, each with an arm around his shoulder.
Stone again was with the players who were once his team, whom he still considers his family and who made it so hard to say goodbye to MU.
“It hurt. I knew I was going to miss it," Stone said. "It hurts leaving your family like that. I just knew I had other things to do, that God had other plans.”
Those plans included SEMO coach Dickey Nutt, whose first objective was to show Stone he cared.
"We had to let him know first and foremost that we love him," Nutt said. "But you're going to do it the way I ask you to do it."
When Stone first arrived in Cape Girardeau, he skipped class and talked back to coaches. He was dismissed from practice twice last season, the latter of the two dismissals almost for good.
And Nutt demanded more.
"He fought it, but then he said, 'Yes sir, I'll do it,'" Nutt said. "He didn't want to go back home, didn't want to go back to a third school."
Stone was in for a lesson in discipline, and it's one he learned well.
"The most important thing about Tyler Stone that I'm most proud of is that he has discipline," Nutt said.
Stone has come to respect the game he loves. The game kept him off the streets of Orange Mound, a neighborhood in Memphis, Tenn., that Stone calls a "rough neighborhood."
"I was in the gym, away from trouble," Stone said. "Fighting, dumb stuff. People get shot every day in Memphis. Basketball just kept me out of the street."
And after SEMO's 83-68 loss to Missouri, with tears in his eyes because he wanted to win so bad, he thought of all basketball had done for him.
Life had handed him some bad cards, and he played some bad hands. But he was back to the game he loved, back to the game he considers his life.
And Tyler Stone felt victorious in an 83-68 loss.