Stars helped women’s game grow

Sunday, March 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:19 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

In the 30-year history of Missouri women’s basketball, 159 players donned the Tigers’ home white uniforms at Hearnes Center.

Condensing those players to a list of the five greatest players in Missouri history is no easy task, but those on the all-time Missouri team tout resumes that separate them from the rest.

Renee Kelly and Joni Davis remain Missouri’s most prolific scorers and are guaranteed a place in Missouri women’s basketball history as the only players to have their numbers retired.

Together they led the Tigers to the 1984 Big Eight Conference championship and played leading roles in Missouri's six straight 20-win seasons from 1981-87.

Davis, a shooting guard who played for the Tigers from 1981-85, seemingly scored with ease from anywhere within 20 feet of the basket. Her 2,162 points are the most by a Missouri player and came before the implementation of the 3-point line in 1987.

Kelly, a power forward, was one of the most dominant inside players in the country from 1984-87. Her 1,098 rebounds make her Missouri’s leading rebounder and her 2,119 points are second to Davis.

There is no doubt Davis and Kelly were Missouri’s greatest tandem when they were teammates from 1983-85.

Joann Rutherford, Missouri’s coach from 1975-98, said Kelly and Davis’ accomplishments are more impressive in comparison to current standards of greatness.

“I hear about players scoring 1,000 or 1,500 points now and I think, ‘So what?’ because Renee and Joni scored 2,000 and then we didn’t even have a 3-point shot,” Rutherford said. “If you put it in perspective, you see they were pretty outstanding players at that time.”

Davis lives in Long Beach, Calif., and is working toward her third master’s degree. She is studying therapy at California State-Long Beach and hopes to become a psychological therapist.

Although Davis said she has many fond memories of Hearnes Center, one her worst memories is of coach Rutherford making her and her teammates run from the court to the top of D section after making a mistake in practice. “I remember never having so many curse words come out of my mouth,” Davis said. “It would take you to the brink of hyperventilation almost every time you did it and so now if the new place is bigger I feel sorry for those poor girls.”

Kelly lives in Augusta, Ga., and is in her fifth year teaching and coaching girls’ basketball at Augusta Westside High.

One of Kelly’s most vivid memories came in a 105-79 loss to Oklahoma on Jan. 25, 1986, when she scored 41, which remains Missouri’s game scoring record.

Kelly said she thinks Hearnes Center will be missed, and Kelly and Davis say they grow sentimental whenever they see the court they once played on.

“As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen the court on TV and seen how its painting and design changed,” Davis said. “But I still take a few moments to watch the game and look at the Hearnes Center court and remember the times I stepped foot out there.”

Sharon Farrah, a 5-foot-8 point guard who played from 1975-79, joins Davis and Kelly on the all-time team.

Farrah’s 15 points per game during her career are impressive considering she played basketball for one year at Mexico (Mo.) High before coming to Missouri.

Her inexperience didn’t have much of an effect, for Farrah is Missouri’s fourth-leading scorer with 1,820 points. Farrah is also remembered for guiding the Tigers to a team-record 28 wins during the 1976-77 season.

“I remember our team and women’s basketball going through a lot of transitions back when I played,” Farrah said. “We went from a mediocre team to a very good team while I was there and women’s basketball also began to emerge.”

Farrah is an assistant principal at Cypress Falls High in Cypress, Texas.

Kesha Bonds played at Missouri during a less successful era than Farrah, Kelly and Davis.

Bonds, a 6-1 center, was a potent inside presence for the Tigers from 1995-99, one of the most tumultuous periods in Missouri women’s basketball history.

Bonds and her teammates struggled after Missouri joined the Big 12 Conference in 1996 and Rutherford retired after a disappointing 11-16 season in 1998.

Despite Missouri’s woes, Bonds was the Big 12 leading rebounder in 1998 and 1999 and her 1,021 rebounds are second to Kelly.

“Kesha had an incredible knack for going after the ball,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “She was just an outstanding rebounder.”

Bonds also is Missouri’s 11th-leading scorer with 1,381 points. She said she fondly remembers beating Kansas at Hearnes Center as a freshman and sophomore, but what sticks in her mind most is practicing in the Hearnes Center Fieldhouse.

“When Norm (Stewart) wouldn’t give us the (main) court, we would practice up there in what we called the ‘hot box,’” Bonds said. “Those large fans would make it so hard to hear much of what coach said and it would be so hot in the summer.

“We called it our own personal luxury suite.”

Bonds is an account manager at Daimler Chrysler in Overland Park, Kan., and she said she tries to go to as many Missouri women’s games as possible.

Evan Unrau, the only active player on the all-time team, rounds out the starters. Unrau, a 6-1 small forward, might not be the flashiest player in Missouri history, but she is arguably the most versatile.

Stein often comments how Unrau is capable of playing all five positions. Unrau’s sense of leadership forces her importance to often be measured in more than statistics, but performances such as her 40-point, 15-rebound game against Kansas State on Feb. 22 are a testament to her talent.

“Evan is so unassuming,” Stein said. “You can watch our games and she wouldn’t stick out. Then you look at her line and she has a double-double and you don’t remember when she did it.”

Unrau’s 920 rebounds through Wednesday make her Missouri’s third-leading rebounder and she is 60 points away from passing Lorraine Ferret for sixth on Missouri’s scoring list. As a freshman, Unrau played a key role in leading the Tigers to the Sweet Sixteen of the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

“Evan is the ultimate blue collar player and she just gets it done,” Stein said. “That is just a testament to her tenacity because she is constantly trying to find a way to help the team.”

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