It was just a month ago when my longtime friend and financial advisor Charlie Ferretti called me up out of the blue. I was in the midst of the March Madness whirlwind, furiously cranking away on our NCAA tournament previews and predictions while trying not to drown in a vast sea of content.
I answered the phone both distracted and disheveled as Chuck proceeded to brief me on what would wind up being one of the most entertaining and fulfilling experiences any media member or diehard college hoops fan could ask for. It was chicken soup for the college basketball soul.
As a card carrying member of the U.S Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), I was already privy to the USBWA’s award lineup: the Oscar Robertson Award (men’s player of the year), Ann Meyers Drysdale Award (women’s player of the year), the Wayman Tisdale Award (men’s top freshman of the year) and the Henry Iba Award (men’s top coach of the year). I’m ashamed to admit that I was oblivious to the standard presentation protocol for these prestigious honors, but could only assume a venue of the highest caliber would be the USBWA’s destination of choice.
So, when Chuck referred me to the official USBWA press release, which revealed the Missouri Athletic Club (‘MAC’) in downtown St. Louis would play host to such a premier event, that initial feeling of naivety was instantly replaced by giddy excitement.
Just twelve hours removed from living the rare opportunity of covering the event as a media member, a privilege typically reserved for only a select few of the local media outlets, I’ve reached the following conclusions:
The USBWA CBB Awards just might be the best kept secret in St. Louis
The USBWA CBB Awards found a perfect partner in the Missouri Athletic Club
With a sellout crowd of 420 on hand, 90% of which were reserved for the MAC’s membership, the event strikes an optimal balance between grandeur and exclusivity. The first segment of the night’s itinerary opened up the lobby floor for an intimate co-mingling between the award winners, the MAC membership and the media, which brought to life a unique feeling of affinity and camaraderie within the room.
I mean, where else can you get an impromptu picture with Zion Williamson, arguably the most famous basketball player on planet Earth right now…
After a robust round of introductions during the extended lobby ‘meet-and-greet’, the Missouri Athletic Club began to flex its host muscles. The VIP panel Q&A and subsequent awards dinner banquet checked all the proverbial planning boxes.
Seamless scheduling. A-list hosts and guests. Top-notch food and drink.
Check, check and check.
This excellence all made sense when I learned about the Missouri Athletic Club’s longstanding tradition of hosting athletic events, as described by the Director of Marketing Communications, Jim Wilson, when I asked him about the marriage between the USBWA CBB Awards and the MAC:
We have a history of hosting these types of athletic awards events like the Jack Buck Awards – established in 1970. I describe the banquet as like the Oscars of St. Louis sports. And then in 1986, the MAC was on the national stage by hosting the MAC Hermann Trophy – college soccer’s version of the Heisman Trophy. Our experience and success hosting these type of events helped us secure hosting the USBWA Awards. And I agree, it is a perfect marriage. Our Club membership has around 250 members who play in our basketball leagues, and we have a traveling team, so out members have a passion for the game.
That burning passion for the game of basketball which permeates throughout the MAC membership base is a microcosm of the broader region’s love of the game. There’s no better example than Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley Conference’s annual championship tournament, which has called St. Louis home for nearly three decades. Given that backdrop, it’s no surprise that Q&A panel emcee Tom Ackerman (longtime ‘Voice of the Valley’) and Good Guy Award winner Barry Hinson (18-year head coach in the Missouri Valley at both Missouri State and Southern Illinois) struck a chord with the Heartland-based audience.
The dynamic duo anchored on themes of “defense” and “toughness”, both of which were fitting narratives given who they were sharing the stage with: Megan Gustafson, the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award winner, who hauled in a whopping 14 rebounds a game this season as the anchor to Iowa’s stout defense. Rick Barnes, the Henry Iba Award winner, whose unwavering commitment to team defense and unselfishness has been the calling card of his teams for almost 40 years in coaching. Zion Williamson, the Oscar Robertson Award and Wayman Tisdale Award winner last night, who’s quickly running out of room for new hardware in his already jam-packed trophy case:
He, too, played some defense on occasion…
The panel Q&A was simply an appetizer for the main course, which took place in the MAC’s grand ballroom and was brilliantly emcee’d by Missouri Sports Hall of Famer Mike Kelly (who held back no punches in his hysterically gut-wrenching introduction).
Yet, while the marquee brand names of Zion Williamson and Rick Barnes were expected to garner most of the intrigue from the crowd, it was Hinson who stole the show with his 20-plus minute acceptance speech (skip ahead to 1:03:00):
It was the ultimate closing sermon to cap off a wonderful night at the Missouri Athletic Club, solidifying a second straight successful year of hosting the USBWA College Basketball Awards. It’s no wonder the USBWA has agreed to let the MAC host the event at their downtown St. Louis location for the next two years…