Frank Haith excited to honor former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart

Thursday, October 24, 2013 | 8:55 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Frank Haith’s first Hearnes Center memory involves a pregnancy.

Haith — then a 36-year-old assistant at Texas — vividly recalls the Longhorns’ trip to the building during the 2001-02 season. A month earlier, Texas point guard T.J. Ford leaped into the crowd while trying to save a ball going out of bounds in a game at Oklahoma State. Ford inadvertently collided with an unidentified pregnant woman, who toppled over and hit her head on the floor.

“And I remember seeing a young lady sitting there in the (Hearnes Center’s) student section with a pillow in her stomach saying ‘Don’t hit me,’” Haith recalled Thursday afternoon.

More Hearnes Center memories will be made Friday night, with former Missouri coach Norm Stewart’s 1993-94 Big Eight Conference championship team (14-0 in conference play) in attendance. Stewart's team will be honored in its former home before the current team begins preseason action against Oklahoma City University.

Haith came up with the idea for honoring that team and its coach, with whom he now shares a close relationship, last summer.

Haith said every member of the 1993-94 team is expected at Friday's pregame ceremony. The Tigers will also wear white throwback uniforms from that season during the game.

“This is pretty cool,” Haith said while taking in the ambiance at the Hearnes Center, where the Tigers last played a basketball game during the 2003-04 season.

While the Hearnes Center’s vintage look is foreign to Haith’s current players — this team's freshmen weren’t yet born when the conference championship team played — the sentimentality of Friday night’s game is not lost on Haith.

Tuesday afternoon at Mizzou Arena, Haith took another trip down memory lane.

An assistant at Texas A&M a decade before joining Texas’ staff, Haith became familiar with Stewart, 78, when Stewart’s Tigers defeated the Aggies in College Station, Texas, 81-55 in 1992.

“The dog was barking at you the whole game,” Haith said to Stewart, referring to the Aggies’ live mascot, Reveille. “Remember that little dog barking?”

“Sure,” Stewart said. “The story in my family is that my son was playing at Rice … they were playing at Texas A&M and Reveille bit him.”

“No,” Haith interjected, laughing.

“Well, he didn’t,” Stewart responded. “But that’s the advantage of being older. Stories get better as you tell them.”

Stewart has many stories from that 1993-94 season, but he most fondly recalls the triple-overtime victory against Illinois and the team’s fortitude.

“The sum of the total of that group was so much greater than the individual parts,” Stewart said. “It was amazing.”

Stewart compared that team to Haith’s first at Missouri, the 2011-12 team that won the Big 12 Conference Tournament. As Stewart sees it, both were “Small in stature and could shoot it.”

It was during a phone call that season when Stewart taught Haith a lesson.

“We won, I don’t know, five or six games in a row,” Haith said. “And he blew me out because I called him. He said, ‘What in the hell are you doing? You’re winning games now. Why are you calling me? Don’t jinx yourself.’”

Instantaneously, Stewart quipped, “You got beat the next game.”

“No I did not,” Haith said. “But I learned not to call someone or do anything different if you’re winning games. You keep everything the same.

“It’s great when you take up a program that has someone who’s meant so much to the university to still be around and support you,” Haith added. “That’s what he’s meant to me.”

Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.

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