Cancer survivor and former Tiger honored at Missouri men's basketball game

Monday, January 16, 2012 | 9:54 p.m. CST; updated 6:34 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 17, 2012

COLUMBIA – When Tom Miltenberger played men's basketball for the Tigers, Missouri was in the Big Eight Conference and games were held inside Brewer Fieldhouse, which was shared with the track and field team.

“I’m not sure I recognize it anymore,” Miltenberger said, laughing. “There are no pigeons or dust.” 

Miltenberger was recruited on scholarship after graduating from Warrenton High School in 1964 and played both forward and guard for the Tigers. He saw playing time as a junior on coach Bob Vanatta's 1966-67 team, then for his senior season, Norm Stewart became the head coach.

“I guess that they can thank us for getting Norm Stewart to come to the university,” said Miltenberger, referring to the team's struggles under Vanatta. 

During a timeout during the first half of Missouri’s 70-51 victory against Texas A&M on Monday at Mizzou Arena, Miltenberger was introduced as the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center's Star of the Game as both a former Missouri basketball player and cancer survivor. 

He was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 30, underwent chemotherapy and was given a clean bill of health. Now at age 65, he is only one treatment away from finishing his second round of chemotherapy, this time for a different type of cancer.

Sitting next to his wife in front-row seats across from the visitors' bench, Miltenberger hardly looked like he was battling an illness. A salt-and-pepper mustache accented a frequent smile, and his 6-foot-plus frame made it easy to recognize him as a former basketball player.

Miltenberger graduated with a degree in journalism in 1969 and obtained his master’s degree in education in 1971. He worked in financial aid at Westminister College for four years, then worked for Edward Jones as a financial advisor and partner for 30 years.

When he joined the Missouri team, the freshmen didn’t play on varsity but instead had their own team. They played 15 games against several conference schools and two junior college teams, but they didn’t play a full conference schedule.

When he began playing on Missouri’s varsity team, the first thing that struck him was the players’ size difference.

“The players were bigger, more mature, and they weighed more,” Miltenberger said with a chuckle.

The most memorable game of his career came during his senior season when Missouri beat Kansas in Lawrence. Senior forward Tom Johnson made a free throw with no time left on the clock to give Missouri a one-point victory over Kansas.

He’s been a season ticketholder since his time playing as a Tiger and has attended nearly every home Missouri men’s basketball game, traveling from his home in St. Albans, a suburb of St. Louis, to see the Tigers play.

His season ticket seats are in the front row of Mizzou Arena, so he gave his friends the four tickets in a section higher in regular seats that he received for being honored at the game.

Miltenberger now serves on the advisory board at Ellis Fischel, advising the staff on patient care issues, assisting with fundraising, organizing special events and nurturing a relationship with MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which does research on cancers in animals that are similar to cancers in humans.

Miltenberger said he has been impressed with Missouri head coach Frank Haith’s ability to transfer his style of play to the Tigers. 

“I think it is certainly a fun team to watch,” Miltenberger said. “As an old player, it’s something you can really appreciate having to change your style of play.”

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