Cuonzo Martin has 'whirlwind' start as Mizzou basketball coach
Never before has Missouri opened up season-ticket renewals and new season-ticket sales so soon after the conclusion of its men’s basketball season.
But the remarkable three-week transformation of the once-proud program, which has fallen on hard times, prompted the Tigers to capitalize on the gathering momentum almost before the recent moribund season was laid to rest.
Based on the early sales receipts, it seems like a prudent business move, too.
Two weeks into its sales drive, which is being spearheaded by a new revenue-sharing partnership for outbound ticket sales with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions, MU told The Star it has sold 1,503 renewals or new season tickets through the close of business Friday.
The hiring of Cuonzo Martin from California coupled with top prospect Michael Porter Jr.’s commitment to the Tigers has revitalized interest in a program despite four consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
School officials are hailing the surge as a “tremendous response” from a fanbase starved for good news.
Mizzou announced March 5 that former coach Kim Anderson had been asked to step down.
Anderson, who was introduced Monday as the new coach at Pittsburg (Kan.) State, inherited an NCAA investigation, difficult-to-navigate APR issues and a deteriorating roster.
He halted much off the off-court turmoil, but the Tigers went 27-68 on Anderson’s watch, including the recently completed 8-24 campaign.
It marked the second time during Anderson’s three seasons Mizzou broke the program record for most losses in a single season.
First-year athletic director Jim Sterk moved aggressively to pry Cuonzo Martin away from the Pac-12’s Golden Bears, reaching a seven-year deal worth $21 million March 15.
The return of the Porter family to Columbia was the next domino to fall.
Last summer, Porter Jr. committed to Washington — where his godfather, Lorenzo Romar, was entrenched as head coach and his father, Michael Porter Sr., was hired as an assistant last spring after six seasons on the Mizzou women’s staff.
Porter Jr. was released from the national letter of intent he signed in November with the Huskies after Romar was fired on the same day the Tigers hired Martin.
Less than a week later, Porter Sr. joined Martin’s staff at Mizzou and Porter Jr. also announced he would be coming home to Columbia.
Porter Jr. moved to mid-Missouri before fifth grade and emerged as one of the best basketball players in the country, helping Father Tolton Catholic win the 2016 Missouri Class 3 state championship.
During one season at Nathan Hale High in Seattle, Porter Jr. became the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year while helping the undefeated Raiders (29-0) win a Washington Class 3A state crown and mythical MaxPreps national title.
Porter Jr. added MVP honors Wednesday during the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago, cementing his place as the top player in the 2017 crop of high school prospects.
Now, he’s trying to convince a few more blue-chip recruits to join him in Mizzou’s quest to climb from the SEC cellar back closer to college basketball’s summit.
Tigers fans appear to have taken notice.
The school sold 12,448 season tickets in 2012-13, a figure that held relatively steady in 2013-14 (12,444) and 2014-15 (12,146).
Mizzou reported 11,042 season tickets in 2015-16, but that number dropped precipitously to 8,876 last season, a decline of 28.7 percent in five years.
Buoyed by the hiring of Martin and the return of the Porter family, expect those slumping sales to rebound now that hopes again springs eternal for Tigers hoops.