COLUMBIA — The stands are starting to fill up at the Rock Bridge High School gym for the boys basketball game against Raytown South. A Rock Bridge player takes the ball up the middle and scores, prompting the announcer to call out a familiar name over the PA system:
Just two years ago, Ricky Kreklow was racking up points for the Bruins. After earning Mr. Show-Me Basketball honors he went on to play for Missouri. Now, he's in California, sitting out his sophomore year of college after transferring to California-Berkeley.
His younger brother Ryan Kreklow is now the one making layups and hitting jump shots for the Rock Bridge Bruins. He's a freshman in the starting lineup on the school's junior varsity boys basketball team, and he's writing his own chapter of the Kreklow family basketball legacy.
He is listed as 5 feet 11 inches tall on the roster, but he refers to himself as 6 feet tall. He has braces on his teeth in Rock Bridge yellow, still refers to ages in half-year increments and has never been interviewed before now.
He doesn't even go to the high school yet. Freshmen in the Columbia Public School District attend the city's junior high schools.
Bruins' junior varsity coach Quentin Mitchell refers to him as "too little" ever since Ryan Kreklow tried posting up Mitchell at practice; Ryan Kreklow was inevitably dubbed "Little Ricky" by his brother's friends when they still attended Rock Bridge.
But his most interesting, and perhaps most enduring nickname, rarely makes it outside of the family circle.
"It's been kind of an ongoing joke for years that I've always called him llama," Ricky Kreklow said. "I don't really know how it started, but what is a llama good for, really? It's kind of just that animal you have that can't really defend itself that you use for a nice blanket."
Ricky Kreklow can't help but laugh when he says it. The llama nickname, which came into being during Ricky Kreklow's freshman year at Rock Bridge, is part of a family dynamic that's competitive but hardly filled with pressure. The family members clearly care deeply for each other.
"We want each other to be the best we can and reach the level that we want to reach, but at the same time we want to be the better brother," Ricky Kreklow said.
It's a balance that their father, Wayne, former Drake University basketball player, Boston Celtic and current Missouri women's volleyball coach, said is important in a family where there's a tradition of competing in college and professional athletics. To maintain this balance, he intentionally keeps most of his basketball trophies and plaques out of view at home.
"Over the years you come in contact with families where either mom or dad played sports at a pretty high level," Wayne Kreklow said. "You walk into their houses and there's the shrine with all the awards and plaques sitting out where everyone can see them, and I thought, 'You know, you're placing a lot of pressure on your kids,' because they see that every day. I think I purposely did exactly the opposite."
And of all families to have this pressure, the Kreklows would be the one. Ryan Kreklow is the youngest sibling in a family filled with athletes and coaches.
His dad, brother, an uncle and his grandfather all played college basketball. Meanwhile, his sister Ali is a sophomore playing volleyball at Rock Bridge, his mother, Susan, is director of the Missouri women's volleyball operations and his cousin, Molly, is a sophomore on the Missouri volleyball team.
But among the three basketball players in the household, there's an unavoidable competition, whether the physical evidence is there or not. As the youngest Kreklow, Ryan is well aware of what came before him.
For example, while sitting in the stands watching Rock Bridge's varsity team play against Hogan Prep, he casually high-fived Missouri senior guard Marcus Denmon as Denmon walked by. Denmon could well be playing in the NBA next year, but to Ryan Kreklow, he's just his brother's old teammate.
"I think often you see this in families where different siblings all compete in the same or different sports," Wayne Kreklow said. "The youngest ones like Ryan are very aware, even if you're not outwardly trying to make a big deal of things."
Even with the llama jokes, Ricky Kreklow is glad to see his little brother enjoying the game and working hard.
"I don't want him to ever really feel like he's pressured to do something or play at a certain level," Ricky Kreklow said. "It's great to know that he's got the drive to kind of do it on his own, not because the other male figures in the household did the same thing but because he wants it as badly himself."
Still, the Kreklow dynamic wouldn't exist without a little good-natured competition, and more importantly, trash talk. Even Wayne Kreklow couldn't help but remind his oldest son that his father was the real big dog when they were talking about Ryan Kreklow in a recent phone conversation.
But with Wayne Kreklow's days of professional basketball behind him, the competition remains in large part up to the two brothers, and both of them are quick to claim their territory.
"In reality, among all the big dogs, Ryan's just a llama," Ricky Kreklow said. "He's at the point where he's his llama self among his llama friends. Maybe if I lose a leg, he can call me big llama if he gives me a challenge. But as far as I can see, I'm big dog, he's big llama."
But Ryan Kreklow is undeterred. Ever the youngest and physically smallest dog in the family, he refuses to be Ricky's 'blanket animal.'
"Ricky's small dog," he said. "When he calls me llama he knows he's going to get a whoopin'. I'll be big dog in a few years and then he'll be head llama."