Iconic Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart liked to pretend he never spent money in Kansas, least of all in Lawrence.
That was fun stuff but absolutely untrue, he has laughingly acknowledged in retirement.
It’s a different dynamic now, of course, since Mizzou defected from the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference and Kansas won’t schedule MU in games that count.
Just the same, current Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin knows a certain aura yet lingers over the dormant rivalry.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
So he grinned Thursday night during a Mizzou Caravan stop at Chicken N Pickle in North Kansas City as he started to reveal where he’d be spending the next few days.
“Of all places,” he said, “Lawrence, Kansas.”
He’ll be there to see his middle child, Chase, play in the Kansas City Classic AAU tournament for Missouri Team Carroll (as in former Tiger DeMarre) at the Sports Pavilion on, oof, Rock Chalk Lane.
Moreover, he’ll, gulp, go ahead and spend money there.
And, if time allows, he may even see about trying to get his first glimpse inside Allen Fieldhouse and the connecting DeBruce Center, which houses James Naismith’s original rules of “Basket Ball.”
“I think I need to do that,” he said, smiling. “Put my armor on and go through.”
If he needs some inside help getting in, he figures KU coach Bill Self would be up for it.
“I’d like to think … Bill would take me through,” he said, suggesting a call might go like this: “ ‘Coming through, man, get ready.’ "
More seriously, Martin figures it’s about time to call Self, anyway, to see about trying to re-up the charity exhibition game the schools played last year at Sprint Center.
“Oh, yeah, we need to try to do it again,” Martin said. “I’d love to do it.”
The electric, sold-out “Showdown for Relief” raised more than $2 million for hurricane disaster relief.
The game also will be remembered for a quirky aspect: It proved to be the highlight of the Michael Porter Jr. “era” at MU.
Although the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation made only six of 20 field goals in the game, he scored 21 points in 23 minutes and flashed enough game to portend a great season ahead.
Instead, he made it just two minutes into the regular-season opener against Iowa State before being sidelined with a back injury that would later require surgery and keep him out the rest of the regular season.
Porter returned as a shadow of himself for the SEC tournament and MU’s NCAA Tournament flameout against Florida State and now is projected as an NBA draft top 10 pick.
Everyone wanted more from Porter’s time at Mizzou, naturally, but the flip side is that his recruitment jump-started so much in the weeks after Martin took over the program last year.
“It really all started with (MPJ),” Martin told the crowd at Chicken N Pickle.
Most of all, it revitalized the distressed MU fan base and intrigued other top-notch recruits — such as Jeremiah Tilmon and Porter’s younger brother, Jontay, who reclassified to skip his senior year in high school.
In turn, the fresh buzz around the program and his ability to integrate new parts with old allowed Martin to establish a culture and foundation that he figures is in place now as he looks toward the future starting with an enticing new recruiting class.
“You go into the second season with a peace of mind more than anything,” said Martin, who noted that his players are being asked to take 1,000 shots a day (up from 500) five days a week this offseason. “The work is still the work. I don’t care if you’ve got a great team, an average team, a team you’ve got to make adjustments to, rebuild.
“But I’ve always been a guy to enjoy the journey of whatever you’re going through in a season. The bumps in the road. I think all of those are great things that add value to your life.”
So even while Martin calls the matter of Jontay Porter’s impending decision about the NBA draft the “elephant in the room,” he also considers the mystery just part of the process.
He also wants the younger Porter to “put his best foot forward” in exploring the option because that’s his dream — and he has no doubt Porter ultimately belongs in the league.
As for Martin’s own sense of belonging in Columbia after previous head coaching stints at Missouri State, Tennessee and Cal, he said on an earlier tour stop in St. Louis that he figures MU will be the last stop as a collegiate head coach.
Again with the caveat of knowing that his stature can shift and leave MU wanting to move on from him, Martin, 46, said Thursday that he hopes to be at Mizzou “20-plus years.”
But he also envisions a life after coaching, and he reiterated an interest to which he had alluded before: becoming president of the NCAA.
Or at least working in that direction.
“Whether you’re the president or not, I just think there’s a need for continued support in that area,” Martin said. “Not to say our president’s not doing a great job now, but that’s something I would certainly think about down the road if it didn’t work out here.”
Asked to elaborate on why, Martin said, “I’ve had a pulse on (NCAA sports) since I was a kid, because I was highly recruited, I went to a great university (Purdue). … And as an assistant, and now as a head coach, as you navigate through things, you see things, you hear things.
“Do I think I could help in that department down the road? Of course. Oftentimes in order to solve situations, you have to understand situations, and I think I can be a great asset at some point.”
As it happens, he’s about to become more of an asset to the game: Next month, he’ll begin a term on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee.
Martin will be one of two coaches on the 16-member committee that, per the NCAA, seeks to “enhance the development and public perception of the sport and make recommendations related to regular-season and postseason men’s basketball” and improve “the student-athlete educational experience.”
“I feel like you just have to do your part to pay what you owe in life, not even necessarily in basketball,” he said. “And I try to do my part.”
In this case, his part on the oversight committee previously has been played by … Self.
Just another topic for them if they meet up in Lawrence over the next few days.