Snyder came to love the ‘Cracker Jack Box’

Sunday, February 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:56 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

During Quin Snyder’s first year as coach of the Missouri men’s basketball team, he went through quite a learning experience.

It wasn’t on the court; it was finding the court.

Snyder could have used a map of the interior of Hearnes Center.

“(On my first visit), I never saw the arena portion of it,” Snyder said. “I just saw the catacombs of the building. I spent the first couple months just getting lost, trying to find out where I was going.”

Although he had received a tour, it took time for Snyder to understand the inner passageways of the building.

“I made sure to pretend I knew where I was going,” Snyder said. “I didn’t think it was a good sign for me not to know where I was, but I did get turned around. I’d end up in the fieldhouse every now and then.

“I started going everywhere using the interior of the arena because at least I could see where I wanted to go at the point. I think I got it figured out the next year at camp. I had the benefit of camp. Camp orients you.”

Once Snyder gained his navigational sense, he developed a special appreciation for Hearnes Center.

“It’s an unbelievably special building,” Snyder said. “(Based on the exterior), we used to call it a Cracker Jack Box. There’s always a surprise waiting for you inside. The exterior is strong and bold, and then you get inside and there’s a richness to it.”

Snyder has been consistent during his tenure as the Tigers’ coach. Snyder has a 62-14 record at Hearnes Center in five seasons.

“It’s one of those arenas that you can feel.”

“The way the seating bowl is, I know it doesn’t always make for great seats in D (section), when you come out the aisles and look down it’s a powerful effect to see the interior of the arena,” Snyder said. “It’s one of those arenas that you can feel.”

Snyder would know about arenas with a feel because he played his college basketball in one of the most storied buildings, Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. As a Blue Devil guard, Snyder won 55 of 60 home games from 1985-89.

Snyder also spent 1993-99 as a part of the Duke coaching staff. The Blue Devils’ building is famous for its boisterous student sections, which surround the court.

Snyder said a similar environment comes from the Missouri students, who do a good job backing the Tigers.

“Our students are terrific,” Snyder said. “The other night is a great example. We had as good a crowd. We haven’t lived up in every way maybe to what people expected this year, but our fans have been unbelievable through the whole thing.

“That was one of the fun things about the Oklahoma State game. I was happy for our players and our fans to be able to savor a victory like that.”

At the conclusion of the Tigers’ 93-92 double-overtime victory against the Cowboys on Tuesday, the students rushed onto the court to celebrate and congratulate the players.

Snyder hopes more can be done for fans

Because the students have supported the program and Snyder, he said he would like to, in return, provide more for the students.

“I’ve said I would love to see us do more for them,” Snyder said. “I’d like to see them be able to camp out. I’d like to see the tickets be general admission, first-come, first-serve and eliminate the All-Sports Pass. That’s what allows you to do some of those things with student seating.

“If there’s demand, the people that really want to be there are there and appreciate it.”

Before every season, Snyder invites the Zou Crew, a student cheering section, to a practice and an accompanying question-and-answer session.

Although the students will again have seats behind a basket in the new arena, they helped generate the novelty of Hearnes Center.

“The new building is going to be wonderful,” Snyder said. “But it’s always hard to leave home even if you’re moving into something that’s spectacular, which I think the new building is.

“There’s a sentimentality that the Hearnes Center will always have.”

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