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|Kevin Lawrence, left, and his college buddy, Gene Wojciechowski.|
|Matt Lawrence is third on the Tigers in scoring this season.|
“"I just knew growing up in Missouri, I wanted to play for Missouri," says Lawrence. That's nice, except that what worked for Lawrence at Lafayette (Mo.) High, didn't work at Mizzou. He got beat off the dribble. He got muscled. He wasn't as fast, as quick, as anything. Lawrence called home and said, "Man, I really don't belong here." But by the end of the conversation he had figured it out. He told Kev, "If I'm going to survive here, I'm going to have to learn how to shoot the 3." That was 238 treys ago, which ranks second in school history and ninth in Big 12 history. But before the happy ending, there was an NCAA investigation and Snyder's resignation/firing in the middle of the Lawrence's first year. There was the hiring of Mike Anderson and the arrival of Anderson's "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" motto. When you think of Lawrence, you don't think fastest anything. "Oh, definitely," says Lawrence, "especially when you have people in the community, people back home saying, 'You don't fit his style at all. He likes athletic guys.'" I was one of those people. I e-mailed Kev and said that if the Tigers hired Anderson, Matt might want to think about rotating to another program. You know, for his own good.
I just knew growing up in Missouri, I wanted to play for Missouri.” -- Missouri's Matt Lawrence
“But Matt wasn't going anywhere. He told his old man, "I don't want to transfer. That's what people do who can't play." That was 84 starts ago. Lawrence never had a signing day. He started zero games on a Snyder team that finished 12-16 under the weight of an NCAA inquiry. He started as a sophomore for a new coach, but that didn't stop opposing players and fans from mocking him. (Some of it was his own fault. His profile in the MU media guide says his favorite pregame ritual is eating a Snickers and listening to techno music. "I've been trying to get that taken out of the media guide every year," he says.) And the Tigers were an NCAA tournament no-show. Last season Mizzou was undone by player unrest, bar fights and mass suspensions. Lawrence, who stayed above the mess, started against Nebraska when the Tigers' roster was reduced to just six scholarship players. As usual, Mizzou missed the NCAAs. This season Anderson asked him to come off the bench during much of the Big 12 schedule. Lawrence didn't say a peep and the Tigers won a school-record 30 games. Then again, Lawrence has never been much of a whiner. Wouldn't be right. After all, his sister, Rachel, never complains. She was diagnosed with a significant form of autism at an early age.
I don't want to transfer. That's what people do who can't play.” -- Lawrence
“"A lot of times ... if I've got a test, a paper, a game -- all this stuff on my plate -- and I think it's overwhelming, there's my sister and she doesn't have the same things," says Lawrence. "She can't go to college and get a degree. She can't play a sport. She can't find joy in these same things. My sister has it a lot worse." Says Kev: "She loves her brother. She's happy to see him. But she doesn't understand basketball. She doesn't like big crowds, loud noises. Those things upset her. ... The fact that his sister has to deal with the things she does makes Matt appreciate the skills he has. I think that's one of the reasons he doesn't get too mad about situations. I think [Rachel] has something to do with that. What she's got is a big deal. Basketball isn't a big deal." It was a big deal on March 4 -- Senior Night. Lawrence received a framed jersey and an ovation to die for. Kev was emotional. Jill cried. And when Jill cries, Matt chokes up. He also got geeked up for his final home game. His first shot against No. 5-ranked Oklahoma -- a jumper from 5 feet -- sailed 3 feet over the rim. But the Tigers beat OU. And they won the Big 12 tourney. And they're 2-0 in the NCAAs after beating Cornell and Marquette. Player unrest? Not anymore. The Tigers sang Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" on the plane back from Boise. "A lot of people can't believe the difference from when I came in at Missouri and where we are now," says Matt. Nothing against Memphis, which has won 27 consecutive games, but I'll be rooting for Mizzou. I'll be rooting for Matt and more Madness bonus frames. After that day on the driveway, it's the least I can do. Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's Podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.
She can't go to college and get a degree. She can't play a sport. She can't find joy in these same things. My sister has it a lot worse.” -- Lawrence