What could have been, and still may be, at Missouri

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Day 2: Missouri | Traveling Violations

COLUMBIA, Mo. – This should have been the first practice of the best season of the rest of Quin Snyder's life.

Missouri returns a top-five team, full of athletes and leaders and game-breaking talents. Five years into Snyder's reign here, this was to be the season of his dreams. Everything and anything would be possible.

Big 12 title. Final Four. National championship.

"We have the pieces," said Snyder on Saturday, sitting in a coaches' locker room at the Hearnes Center after a vibrant two-hour practice. "I see pieces that are good pieces. We have depth. And the unique thing is we have leadership, four seniors. I think we have been rated highly in the past but I don't think we always understood what it takes to win.

"We have that now."

But you can't mention Mizzou's immense potential without also mentioning the immense cloud hovering over the program. The NCAA has delivered an official letter of inquiry and is investigating myriad charges, from academic fraud to providing of extra benefits to players.

Most have to do with former player Ricky Clemons, a troubled-but-talented guard that Snyder gambled on and may have lost with.

It is possible the NCAA's decision will come down midseason, causing a postseason ban and possibly wiping out this most promising of Marches. Or nothing of substance will be found and the Tigers will go on to have a brilliant, if pressured, season.

"I can't talk about the [specifics of the] investigation," Snyder said. "I can say we're cooperating fully, being honest and open with our people and the NCAA. If there are mistakes that have been made, we'll correct them. It is like any business, any competitive business: Mistakes get made. I think the important thing is to correct them."

Only time will tell how serious the mistakes are. But you can sense that the investigation weighs heavily on everyone here.

For Snyder, the former Duke guard who has tasted only success, it is a trying time. Young, handsome and extremely smart – he holds two advanced degrees from Duke – he's been a major winner in nearly every endeavor of his life.

This was supposed to be the year his program would shine, and he truly arrived as a head coach. Instead Snyder seems tired, stressed and a bit humbled.

Letter of inquiry or not, there are plenty of positives here. Many of the Tigers are top-notch people, fine examples of student-athletes. Four seniors are on pace to graduate, pushing Snyder's graduation rate to 14 for 14 of players who stayed four years.

This isn't a program full of Ricky Clemonses. It is a lot more Yale than jail.

"We have really high-caliber kids," Snyder says. "It is exciting to me to think we have a chance to have a special year because I think people will be able to see our guys and see the kind of people they are, in addition to who they are as players."

But instead of showing off what he has built here, he is defending how he did it, especially to other coaches, many of who view him suspiciously.

"You are always affected by what your peers think of you. I would love to have the respect of my peers like any coach.

"I feel like this situation will play itself out. The best thing I can do is ... try to do a good job and do things the right way.

"I think you find out about people in adversity. For me personally and for our program there are mistakes that have been made that we are accountable for. But I also think hopefully you learn from experiences like that.

"Hopefully it can make you better. It is painful. It is a painful growth process. I really need to stay focused on the team that we have."

Snyder is a Duke guy, played there, studied there and eventually worked as an assistant there – all for Mike Krzyzewski, the no-nonsense, high-perception Hall of Famer. A former Duke assistant running into NCAA trouble isn't supposed to happen, even though Fairfield coach Tim O'Toole, also an ex-Duke assistant, also is under investigation.

Which isn't how Krzyzewski would want it.

"I talk to [Krzyzewski] about it all the time," Snyder said. "I get advice form him about it all the time. Hopefully the things that I do will reflect positively on the training and mentoring I received from him since basically the time I was 18.

"I think he knows who I am."

On the eve of the season he has been working toward, everyone else still is waiting to find out for sure.

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