COLUMBIA — He is closer to the basketball court than the student section, but he looks like he's a part of the rowdy group of fans.
In six years, he might be.
Sam Slaughter, 12, is a ball boy for the Missouri men's basketball team and has been for the past three years. He also says he is the loudest.
Just like many of the student fans, he wears a yellow Mizzou T-shirt and black basketball shorts and motions along to the school's chants and cheers, bouncing on his tiptoes. He leans forward and screams along with Tigers player Michael Dixon during the opening video that plays on the big screen. Afterward, he's a little hoarse.
"I love it," Slaughter said of being a ball boy. "I gave up junior high basketball for this."
Slaughter uses what looks like an oversized round Swiffer with a Missouri Tigers logo on it to wipe the players' sweat from the floor as they race down to the opposite end of the court. He rebounds balls for players during warmups and for Truman before the game starts.
During Missouri's 83-65 victory Wednesday night over Oklahoma State, he performed a one-handed version of the Missouri Waltz while bringing a referee a drink. He clapped along with the rest of the song before the referee handed him the cup and Slaughter sprinted to the trashcan to dispose of it.
Slaughter is a seventh-grader at Williamsburg Elementary School and has been a ball boy since he was 9. He doesn't remember what team the Tigers played during his first game as a ball boy, but he said he wasn't nervous, just really excited.
Sometimes, being on TV is his favorite part, he said with a big-screen smile. His friends watch for him and are excited to see his face flash across the screen. The atmosphere and being around the students is usually his favorite part, though.
"Every game, he is absolutely adamant about begging us to get him here early," said his father, Kelly Slaughter. The first ball boy or ball girl to the arena usually gets to pick a side, and Sam Slaughter always picks a spot near the student section.
He's got his future at MU planned out: a major in hotel and restaurant management, on a football scholarship. He plays nose guard for his school's seventh- and eighth-grade football team.
Sam Slaughter, who has one year left of being a Missouri ball boy, learned the rules quickly. He only got in trouble once for stepping over the gold dotted line during the Kansas State game his first year.
Someone as close to the basketball action as he is can't keep from having an opinion about this year's team. Sam Slaughter said he sees the Tigers definitely going to the Final Four and probably even the NCAA Championship.
And next year?
"We're in the SEC," he said. "It's gonna be fun."