By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern basketball coach Robert Corn admits that 22 years ago, he didn’t have the highest hopes of signing Chris Tucker.
“On his visit, he flew in from Memphis and it was an ice storm,” Corn said. “The campus was closed, and Dr. (Julio) Leon (former MSSU president) came in to meet Chris. I think Chris and Dr. Leon and me were the only people on the campus at the time because everything else was shut down.
“You never know what goes through a young man’s head. Whenever he left, I thought to myself it would be a miracle if we got this kid because of the weather. There’s a difference between Memphis and Joplin.”
Mitchell Saulsberry, one of Tucker’s teammates at Kirby High School, had committed earlier to sign with the Lions. Corn traveled to Memphis with the papers to sign Saulsberry — legal back in those days — and he wound up hitting the daily double.
“Chris came up to me and said I want to come to Missouri Southern, too,” Corn said. “It just so happened I did take the papers with me just in case. We set it up for me to go to his home that night, and Chris and his dad signed to be a Lion.”
At Missouri Southern, Saulsberry was hampered with leg problems and lettered only one year. Tucker, on the other hand, grew and developed into an All-American.
“Chris just got better and better and kept developing,” Corn said. “He was about 6-6 when he first came, and he was 6-9 whenever he left.”
Tucker still holds school records for blocked shots in a game (9) and career (179). He’s also second in career rebounds (952) and seventh in career points (1,520).
Spencer Williams, former Lions guard and now assistant coach at Lincoln, was Tucker’s teammate for two seasons.
“He worked hard,” Williams said. “When he first got here, he wasn’t very skilled, a little uncoordinated. But as the years went on, his junior year he was an All-American. That’s one thing about him that made him really good was that he worked hard. He wanted to be a good basketball player. That’s one thing as a teammate that I really enjoyed about him.
“I was one who helped recruit all those guys because I was from Memphis. By me being an older guy, when they came on their visits, I was all their host.”
Tucker also made an impact in the community, especially with elementary school students.
“There was a student who did an art project for school and drew a picture of Chris playing basketball,” Corn said. “Chris had gone to one of the elementary schools and was involved in a reading program. He left such an impression that from that point on, for their reading assignment, they would read the articles about Missouri Southern basketball and Chris in the newspaper.”
After his senior year, Tucker went to summer school to complete work for his degree. But on July 8, 1994, he was killed in an automobile accident.
Freeman Sports Medicine sponsored a tournament at Missouri Southern, and hospital officials wanted to attach Chris Tucker’s name to it. Lincoln was one of the teams in this year’s event.
“One thing I told our players was this tournament is something special to me because of the fact that Chris was a teammate of mine,” Williams said. “But one of the biggest things is when the accident happened, we were all together. We were in separate cars and had just gone to the car wash. Having to watch it and see it, it put a whole lot of things in perspective.”