In early January 1990, the difficult news could have rattled an already talented Raytown South boys basketball team. There in the living room of coach Bud Lathrop, they learned that their star center who had committed to the Kansas Jayhawks, Chris Lindley, had a foot severed in a train accident and could no longer play.
Emotional as it was, it also became a moment of truth. A moment that galvanized a group of teenagers who automatically believed it as a time to become men.
“All the players left except Jevon, and he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to score 30 points and average 18 rebounds every game. Don’t worry about it,’” Lathrop said of Jevon Crudup, who went on to star for Norm Stewart’s Missouri Tigers.
Sure, enough Crudup and Co. elevated the 1990 Raytown South Cardinals into one of the state’s best ever, winning the Class 4 state championship and finishing a perfect 31-0. It’s a team for the ages, one which the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct with the Class of 2016.
The induction is part of the Hall’s Basketball Luncheon presented by Mercy, set for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel & Oasis Convention Center in Springfield.
Overall, Raytown South is one of only 30 Missouri state championship teams to have finished undefeated since 1956 and one of only five to do so in Class 4. It also finished ranked in the top five of USA Today’s national poll.
“It was great teammates” who made it possible, said Crudup, later a second-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons. “We went through some storms, especially after Chris got hurt. Sometimes, you’d see certain people get all the accolades. But I always tell people that I was just a piece of the puzzle.”
What a special team it was. It featured Steve Aldrich, Scott Fidler, Deric Cofield, Andy Nicholson and Bryan Harris as the sixth man and Jesse Battles, a 6-foot-5 post who was told that night in Lathrop’s living room that the center job was now his. Before then, the team had been motivated from losing in the state quarterfinals the prior year.
“Losing Lindley was a rallying cry,” Fidler said. “It was kind of all business after that.”
Said Crudup, “I saw the difference in the first game we played without Chris. Everybody had this focus. And it was always someone stepping up, whether it was a guy getting a key steal or hitting a big shot.”
Those Cardinals the next week won the prestigious Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, beating Oklahoma City-Douglas, Bartow of Florida and St. Raymonds of New York City. They were all the No. 1-ranked teams in their respective states.
The Cardinals also later beat the No. 1-ranked team from the Cornhusker State, Lincoln Southeast. More so, they also dealt three losses to one of Kansas City’s best teams that season, Lee’s Summit featuring KU signee Patrick Richey, including in the state quarterfinals.
To understand how special the Cardinals were, know this: Cofield hit three 3-pointers in the final 19 seconds to force overtime against Lee’s Summit in their second match-up. Plus, Raytown South proved its teamwork in the state semifinals and finals as it beat Vashon and De Smet (66-47) despite Crudup getting whistled for four fouls before halftime of each game.
“Before we played De Smet, their students were chanting 30-1,” Lathrop said. “Jevon came over and asked what they were saying. And then he said, ‘I don’t think so.’”
Crudup, who had four games of 50 points that season, credits Lathrop’s leadership. In practices, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame coach (he of 955 career victories, fourth-most in the nation), often created seven-on-five drills as a way to force the Cardinals offense to weather pressure situations.
“We were all held to a higher standard,” Fidler said, emphasizing that team chemistry rescued the season at its darkest hour. “We all could have scored more, but that’s not what we were about. The core group of guys had been playing together since we were young. That made a big difference.”
Kansas coach Roy Williams still honored Lindley’s scholarship, and Lindley remained in Lawrence, Kan., working for a non-profit. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2007 at age 34.
Other team members included Les Saunders, Ryan Nicholson, Vince Leigh and Sonny Williams. Assistant coaches were John Hursman and Kurt Morrison.
“Fidler, Aldrich, Battles, Cofield, Harris, they were always focused on fundamentals. It didn’t matter who we were playing. They weren’t going to turn the ball over,” said Lathrop. “If we could get a lead and spread the floor and get it to Jevon, they weren’t going to stop him. He was a tremendous competitor. They all were.”
Basketball Luncheon presented by Mercy
When: 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14
Where: Ramada Plaza Hotel & Oasis Convention Center
Inductees: Missouri native Jerry Armstrong, part of Texas Western’s 1966 national championship team and a longtime Missouri high school basketball coach; Malta Bend standout Charlie Henke, one of the first big men to star at the University of Missouri; Missouri State Lady Bear Jeanette Tendai; Drury University’s Nate Quinn; and the 1990 Raytown South High School boys basketball team.
Filbert Five honorees: Women’s team — Kayli Combs Price (Branson/College of the Ozarks), Tag Morris (Blue Eye/Evangel), Bethany Creed (Ash Grove/Drury), Casey Garrison Powell (Bolivar/Missouri State) and Kami Scrivner Eddington (Mount Vernon/Pittsburg State). Men’s team — Daniel Cutbirth (Hurley/Evangel), Tim Brown (Rogersville/Drury), Corey Stone (Reeds Spring/College of the Ozarks), Junior Roweton (Halfway/SBU/Drury) and Tim West (Skyline/State Fair juco/Nebraska).
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. An individual ticket is $40, and a head table ticket is $100. A sponsorship table of eight is $400 and includes an autographed print and recognition in the printed program. Numerous other sponsorships, such as congratulatory ads, also are available.