This article was published in the Feb. 1 edition of the Northwest Missourian as well as published on nwmissourinews.com
Before the era of coach Ben McCollum, one legendary coach laid the foundation which built the Northwest men’s basketball program.
Coach Steve Tappmeyer stood on the Northwest sidelines for 19 years with his trademark green towel around his shoulder.
A recent inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Tappmeyer won three MIAA titles, three MIAA postseason titles and appeared in the playoffs nine times in his tenure. Along with those achievements, Tappmeyer holds the Northwest record for coaching wins and total games coached as a Bearcat. During the Tappmeyer regime, Northwest found its way to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
A student of the program, McCollum hasn’t missed a step since replacing Tappmeyer in 2009. In his ninth year as coach, McCollum has won five MIAA titles, along with two MIAA postseason titles, and brought Bearcat basketball to the pinnacle of Division II with the program’s first national championship. McCollum explained the trail to the top was blazed by Tappmeyer.
“It says a lot about Coach Tapp,” McCollum said. “He wanted somebody from this program to take over the program he essentially built, and it was important to him that I got the job and continued with the culture that he had already established. I think that says a lot about how good of a leader he is.”
Tappmeyer coached the Bearcats to a 372-185 total record while he was at the helm, recording 17 winning seasons. McCollum said the culture can start to fade sooner than you will see on the court.
“I think you lose your culture a lot earlier than you start to lose games,” McCollum said. “It starts to slip, and you don’t realize it because you keep winning games. We’ve always tried to focus on that, and it’s still difficult because it’s daily. There are no real answers; it’s just continuing to get better. There’s no secret recipe. It’s not exciting, and it’s not sexy, for lack of a better term.”
A part of the legendary culture at Northwest is the great atmosphere at Bearcat Arena. As of late, the Bearcats have won 46 straight games and haven’t lost in the friendly confines since 2015. Junior Dray Starzl explained that Bearcat Nation brings the intensity to the games at home.
“Whenever we play at home, it’s great to have the fans behind us,” Starzl said. “We do try and bring out energy every game, but it does help to have a full house and helps us get going right at the start for warm-ups. We like to see people there, and we like to play well in front of them.”
Starzl was a redshirt freshman the last time Northwest dropped a game to a visitor in Maryville and hasn’t seen a loss in Bearcat Arena since he’s stepped on the floor. All that being said, Starzl said the dominance on the home court starts in practice.
“Every day, we try and get to practice 10 minutes early and get the energy up,” Starzl said. “If one of the younger guys isn’t here 10 minutes early, we harp on them, tell them to make sure they do better and keep that culture when the freshman next year come in.”
With the players taking accountability in the program, McCollum explained he can take a back seat, and let the other people he’s surrounded himself with shine.
“I think the key to being a good coach is understanding you’re not that important,” McCollum said. “Once you realize you aren’t that important, you become that important. You become a considerably better leader because you understand all these other people have these strengths, but you need to highlight their strengths.”
Northwest men’s basketball team continued its winning ways this past weekend as they topped in-state rival Missouri Western for the eleventh straight time.
After Saturday’s game, McCollum said hunger is hard to find for a team that has already eaten, but he said this week’s encouragement is simple.
“Just continuing to get better,” McCollum said. “I keep it pretty simple, the process part of it. Hopefully, they see the heightened awareness they had against Hays, and I felt like we did against Western. We need to continue that. Monday, I made a few of them have heightened awareness in practice. Had to use a little fear as motivation.”
The No. 6 team in Division II now directs its attention to its two games this week in Lincoln University (11-10, 5-7 MIAA) and Lindenwood (14-7, 6-6 MIAA), but what was on McCollum’s mind during the weekly press conference was one thing: culture.