Before Norm Stewart’s No. 22 jersey descended from the Hearnes Center rafters Wednesday night, he had to make one thing clear.
“I want to dispel the rumor that your name has to start with ‘S’ to get your number retired,” Stewart said.
Bill Stauffer, Willie Smith, Jon Sundvold and Steve Stipanovich claim the other honored numbers, and their names show a trend.
If anyone had the power to enforce such a policy, it would be Stewart, a player, assistant or coach for 1,127 of 2,306 Missouri games. His 634-333 record during 32 seasons as the Tigers’ coach earned him honor from the basketball community and his name on the court he coached on for 27 years.
As the first half of Missouri’s 82-70 win against Iowa State ended, Stewart left his place on press row, where he was the color commentator for Mizzou Sports Network’s broadcast, amid a standing ovation from the crowd of 11,222. Stewart met his family at midcourt, rolled up the banner and walked off the court to another standing ovation.
Coach Quin Snyder said it was fitting Stewart was the focus when his banner was lowered; the other four jerseys were brought down together Jan. 24. Senior guard Josh Kroenke, a Stewart recruit and the only direct connection to him on the team, said Stewart deserved that recognition.
“I’m sure it’s wonderful for him,” Kroenke said. “Coach Stewart has done so much for the program; he built it basically from scratch into a nationally known program. He’s a great person and a great coach and a great mentor for a lot of different players over a lot of different years.”
The five jerseys will be reunited at the first game at the arena under construction southwest of Hearnes. The court at the arena will not have Stewart’s name, though; a stipulation in the Laurie family’s $25 million donation to subsidize the arena’s building allows the family to have final say on naming rights.
Stewart was stoic when the question was brought up.
“The court, as I understand it, will not be moved,” Stewart said. “That’s the decision that was made two or three years ago. That won’t happen.”
Despite more than four seasons away from the sidelines, Stewart’s need to be near basketball has not waned.
“I’ve watched more (this year) than I ever have in previous years,” Stewart said. “I love doing the TV and being on the sideline because I’m an expert like everybody else now. I didn’t have half the answers when I was sitting on the sidelines, but I have them all now.”
Stewart could not pinpoint a reason for the Tigers’ disappointing 12-10 record, offering that it might be a combination of heightened and unrealistic expectations.
“The expectations are always high, but this year in particular I think they were very high,” Stewart said. “I think maybe the marketing department got a little ahead of themselves. I don’t think you have to market good players; I think they’ll market themselves.”
Kroenke might be the only remaining player Stewart recruited, but Stewart said he was impressed with the talent Snyder has amassed. He suggested that talent alone might not be enough to bring the team success.
“I think they’re talented, but sometimes it doesn’t mesh and apparently they just haven’t meshed well yet,” Stewart said. “Hopefully they will, if they get it together.”
Stewart also hinted at the team’s plans for the final game at Hearnes Center on March 7. He said former Gov. Warren Hearnes, the building’s namesake, and his wife, Betty, plan to attend. A special guest, whom Stewart declined to name, will also appear, along with many former players.
For now, Stewart said he enjoys his role, but would surely take on more responsibilities if they were offered.
“When I left the athletic department, I left with the idea that I could come back anytime somebody in the university thought there was something I could do for them,” he said.
“I’ll sweep the floor and do everything. It doesn’t matter to me.”