One trip to Hearnes Center was all it took for Michael Lee to become an "official Missouri hater."
"Last year I couldn't really figure out why Kansas hated Missouri so much until we played them at Missouri," Lee, Kansas University's sophomore guard from Portland, Ore., said, referring to the Jayhawks' 95-92 win March 3. "Then I figured it all out. They were throwing cups, spit and water. I kind of learned to hate them just as much as any Kansas fan."
Blood tends to boil and heart rates skyrocket when KU and MU meet in men's basketball. Tipoff for today's game is 8:05 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.
Rest assured, the rivalry isn't one-sided.
"Around campus they've been telling me we don't have to win another game as long as we win the Kansas game. That's all that matters," MU freshman Jimmy McKinney said.
Under coach Quin Snyder, the Tigers are 2-4 versus Kansas and 0-3 in Allen Fieldhouse. KU coach Roy Williams is 17-12 against the Tigers, 10-4 in KU's tradition-rich building.
"I know they enjoy having us there so much. It's always a warm greeting," Snyder joked of the atmosphere in Allen. "If you don't enjoy something like that like, you don't want to be in this business.
"It's as challenging an atmosphere as there is. Those are the things you relish."
Snyder, who attended Duke, thinks the KU-MU rivalry is as good as it gets.
"I've forgotten about (North) Carolina-Duke, to be honest with you," he said. "I mean that. As much as I love Duke, and that's where I went to school, that's a memory right now. This is my reality, and I love it, and it's a great rivalry. It's every bit the rivalry of any other rivalry in any other sport they talk about. I rate it No. 1."
Williams considers it "special."
"It is one of the few that I think would be a great game even if they didn't let anybody in the building," Williams said.
KU senior Nick Collison, who is 4-2 against MU, said the Border War games are two of the biggest on the slate.
"They are right up there," said Collison, a native of Iowa Falls, Iowa. "There are a lot of games that are probably equal. Missouri's definitely one of those games."¢
Braids factor in decision: Lee's Summit, Mo., native Jeff Graves told the Journal-World in December he chose KU over Missouri partly because the Tigers told him he'd have to change his hairstyle if he wanted to play at Mizzou.
The issue is back in the news as tonight's game approaches.
"It came down to KU, Louisville and MU. I picked KU because of the braids thing," Graves said. "That was my only ordeal. It wasn't Quin Snyder. It was coach (Tony) Harvey. He said, 'If you shave your braids you can be a Tiger.'''
Williams, Graves said, had no problem with the cornrows.
Some Tigers -- Wesley Stokes, for example -- have had trendy hairdos in the recent past.
"I was talking to my mom. I said, 'How they can say get rid of the braids when you look at Stokes?' I don't know if that's why he's at San Diego State now."
Stokes transferred from MU to San Diego State last season.¢
Beefy players: Three basketball players in tonight's game have dropped significant weight in the last several months.
The 6-foot-9 Graves now weighs 262 pounds after reporting to school at 293. MU's Kevin Young, a 6-9, 270-pounder, reported to summer classes at a whopping 325 pounds. And MU's Arthur Johnson is 265, down from 280 last summer.
"I can't really pay attention to what anybody says. They can look at it as three massive people out there. Other than that, I'll just go play ball," Graves said.
Graves said he wouldn't mind putting a body on MU's bigger players.
"I think it's where my football mentality comes in," said Graves, an all-state tight end/defensive end at Lee's Summit (Mo.) High. "If they want to bang, I'll bang."¢
Hinrich's big game: KU senior Kirk Hinrich had a breakout game against Missouri last Jan. 28, scoring 23 points off 8-of-11 shooting in KU's 105-73 rout of the Tigers at Allen Fieldhouse. Hinrich guarded MU's Kareem Rush, who hit six of 19 shots and scored 13 points.
"He was all over the place," Lee said of Hinrich. "If we needed a basket, he got a basket. If we needed a big stop on defense, he got that."
Hinrich followed the Missouri game with 16 points versus Colorado, 26 against Kansas State and 28 versus Texas Tech. He also had 24 points in KU's home finale against Kansas State and 25 points in the league finale at Missouri.¢
Just visiting: Nick Bahe, a 6-3 shooting guard from Lincoln, Neb., attended Saturday's KU-Nebraska game. Bahe, who averages 18 points a game, told analyst Shay Wildeboor of rivals.com that he was considering walking on to KU next year. He has received some scholarship offers from smaller schools and has heard from TCU and Northwestern.