KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's a cautionary tale being told here for all those wannabes and might-have-been schools that aspire to play Division I basketball.
Beware: Your star might end up in a parking garage on a training table getting four stitches near his right eye.
|UMKC's 6-foot-8, 322-pound Carlton Aaron gives teams matchup problems. (Provided to SportsLine)|
Eighteen years after ascending to D-I status, the Kangaroos (yes, the Kangaroos) can at least talk about getting to the NCAA Tournament without getting a snicker.
After starting 0-7, UMKC suddenly has the nation's ninth-longest winning streak at nine. It leads the Mid-Continent Conference at 7-0 (9-7 overall) heading into Saturday's game at preseason favorite Oral Roberts. That game will mark the halfway point of the conference season. So in a mid-major league that promises only one precious NCAA berth -- the tournament champion -- the streak means a lot to UMKC in late January.
"That's to remind us how bad we want it," said Aaron of the pair of scissors that coach Rich Zvosec put on display in a glass case in the team's practice facility.
The symbolism is obvious and painful: The scissors are there to cut down the nets at the conference tournament, something the 'Roos (yes, the 'Roos) have never done.
"Coach Z puts up a new pair to start off each new year," said Aaron, a 6-foot-8, 322-pound specimen from the Bronx.
So far they have gone unused. But Aaron's game has provided hope as big as his wide body. On Monday, he came off the court the conquering (and bloodied) hero having scored 31 points and pulling down 14 rebounds in 30 minutes against Centenary in an 82-70 victory.
"I lot of people in New York have never heard of UMKC," Aaron said. "They say, 'Oh, the (Missouri) Tigers.' Then they say, 'What? The Kanagroos?'"
And don't forget the cheerleaders (Joeys) or that the home court (Municipal Auditorium) has been called "The Pouch." It is a painful pun but also unique. No other Division I school claims Kangaroos as an official nickname.
Merchandise isn't exactly flying off the rack. In fact, you can get a T-shirt for $5 at any home game. Sorry, cash only. But going to a UMKC is becoming something more than a guilty pleasure. One look at Aaron's unique body and it's obvious he could play for a lot of D-I majors. Using him as a screener alone could send some unsuspecting point guard to the hospital.
An inadvertent fist was the only thing to slow down the biggest Kangaroo after Aaron missed just two of his 15 shots on Monday. At this level, medical treatment becomes a very public thing. The UMKC locker room opens up to a vast indoor parking garage next to temporary home Hale Arena.