It is that time again. I am going into my annual pitch for one of my favorite college sports — women's basketball — hoping that this time many more of you will open your eyes to some very special athletes.
To the hidebound chauvinists out there, as well as to those who have not kept abreast of the times — yes, women do play competitive basketball. And no, it is no longer the archaic and dull exhibition of six players on each team with three forwards and three guards, each trio playing a half-court game.
Last seen in Iowa and Oklahoma high schools in 1993 and 1995, respectively, the sole vestige of women's six-on-six basketball is found in Iowa's Granny League, played under 1920 rules by women 50 and older. Women's basketball in high school and college is now played under the same rules as those governing the men's game.
As one who has played, coached, refereed and watched basketball since the 1940s, I will be brutally honest and admit that until the 1990s, I would gladly have submitted to a root canal rather than watch or referee women's basketball games. That all changed in 1992 upon my return to Columbia and attendance at my first Missouri women's game.
An erstwhile hidebound reactionary, I became hooked on the sport as now played by women. It is basketball in its purest sense — the game we learned from our high school coaches and from the how-to-play books by famous college coaches such as City College of New York's Nat Holman, Long Island University's Clair Bee and Oklahoma A & M's Henry "Hank" Iba, a Missouri boy who played his college basketball at Westminster.
I now readily and unashamedly admit to a preference for the women's game and find myself in excellent company. Legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden openly stated after retirement that he favored women's basketball over the men's game. They play the game as it was meant to be played — with teamwork in passing and defense as the rule rather than the more spectacular but less effective one-on-one often played by their male counterparts.
Enough of the historical perspective already. This university has two fine basketball teams, each deserving of our support. The men's team was ranked at No. 9 in the nation — a feat that speaks for itself.
However, we are also blessed with a very good, competitive and exciting women's basketball team, which currently competes in the Big 12, the U.S.'s premier women's basketball conference. A team that, sadly, is all but ignored. With the exception of about 1,200 loyal fans and 200 or 300 casual attendees, the Missouri women hoopsters are unfairly afforded the "Rodney Dangerfield" treatment at the gate.
Second-year coach Robin Pingeton, previously highly successful as a head coach at St. Ambrose University and at Illinois State with Missouri Valley Conference Championships in her past three years, puts a highly motivated and well-disciplined team on the court for every game. These women hustle, scrap, dive for loose balls and never give up, regardless of the score.
Forward Christine Flores is currently second only to Baylor's Brittney Griner in Big 12 scoring and blocked shots with 20.5 points per game and 3.85 shots blocked. Forward BreAnna Brock is Missouri's second leading scorer and also a spectacular shot blocker — fourth in the Big 12 with 2.62 blocked per game. Brock and Flores rank No. 5 and No. 7 in Big 12 rebounding with 8.5 and 7.5 per game, respectively.
Other players to watch include heady freshman point guard Kyley Simmons; shooting guard Liene Priede, a junior from Riga, Latvia; Sydney Crafton, a tough rebounding guard from Jefferson City; and senior swing player Bailey Gee, a hard-nosed rebounder/defender who boasts a 4.0 GPA in the College of Engineering.
I encourage you — no, I triple dog dare you — to come out for just one game and not morph into die-hard fans of these young ladies who represent our university as the truest of scholar athletes. Not only do they reflect the best in pure hustle and sportsmanship, almost every one of them will remain to graduate — many with honors.
Season tickets are available and extremely affordable — particularly for seniors and youngsters. Let's make a special effort to provide these exceptional young women with the support they deserve. Coach Pingeton is a motivated and motivating coach — sell-out crowds will add to that momentum and motivation.
You are the motivators — get out and buy a seat to buy into the future of Missouri women's basketball.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.