In a preseason breakfast hosted by the Sports Commission, East St. Louis native and new Mizzou basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin was asked what his primary goal is at Missouri’s flagship university. He took a breath and answered, “To build up and educate young men.”
Martin is as knowledgeable about basketball as any other SEC coach. He played under the legendary Gene Keady at Purdue and helped lead the team to consecutive Big Ten Conference titles in 1994 and 1995. Martin played for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and has been a head coach at Missouri State, Tennessee and California since his playing days ended.
He knows the game, but the game is a means to an end for him. Martin seeks to build up young people, but not just those in his charge. The Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin gave the host Tigers all they wanted Tuesday night. Mizzou saw an eight-point halftime lead shrink to a single point in the second half as they escaped with an 82-81 win.
Martin was so impressed with the opposing coaching staff and the players, he did something he had never done in his coaching career. He addressed the opposing team after the game. Please watch the video below to see what he had to say:
The Lumberjacks lost the game, but they are not losers. Martin wanted to make sure they knew that before leaving his building. He made sure they knew their worth as players and as people. Stephen F. Austin’s players did not smile or clap during Martin’s speech, but he didn’t expect them to. He acknowledged the disappointment they must have been feeling after a tough loss.
He empathized with them and lifted them up. What Martin did represents the essence of sportsmanship. Thousands upon thousands of basketball games will be played this season on every level and coaches won’t set foot in the opposing locker room and no one expects them to.
There, however, is the proverbial kicker. Sportsmanship, at its core, is about showing extraordinary compassion in an unexpected moment. Plainly speaking, sportsmanship is about helping someone up that everyone else expects you to step over.
Here’s to hoping Martin and his MIzzou Tigers keep winning games, but not for the accumulation of trophies and banners. You see, the more Martin wins, the longer he’ll be around to be extraordinarily compassionate in unexpected situations.