Justin Safford, the lone senior on the 2010-2011 Mizzou basketball team, has been the most consistent player on the team in his four years.
Though his play has at times been irregular, a throng of black and gold clad Mizzou fans, students and families alike, await his arrival patiently after home games with hooded sweatshirts, sneakers and other memorabilia primed for autographs.
“You see the crowds we’re starting to get here, you know, it’s the support everyone gives us night in and night out. I feel like we owe it to them as players to sign for them,” Safford said.
Safford has built a reputation for perennial post-game appearances beginning in that first year when a rebuilding Mizzou basketball team struggled to .500 at home. Fan loyalty and the reciprocal player outreach, as well as the 2010-2011 team’s flawless non-conference home record, means more fans stay late and more players make the effort to connect. But the die-hards have always been there.
“They’ve always been pretty loyal. My freshman year we went through some tough times, that’s when we were 16-16, but you still had those loyal fans who stuck around, came to the games, and waited around even then for autographs. As things went better, they stuck with us,” Safford said.
Coaches, and especially the media, have questioned Safford’s decision-making in the past, but his play has never been short on effort. Though he lacks the infectious, almost Teddy Bear-like fan appeal of a player like Steve Moore, the senior has never had a bad experience staying late, even after losses.
“Not once, not once. Away, not here,” Safford said.
Players like the aforementioned Moore, Laurence Bowers, Kim English and others also frequently make time for the people postgame. The women’s team takes a more organized approach, with an assigned slot and pre-determined players after every home game.
Safford admitted to occasionally signing apparel of other teams, with one very specific exemption.
“I won’t sign a Kansas hoodie. I refuse.”
Safford struggled along with the rest of the Tigers at Texas on Saturday, scoring four points while shooting ten percent form the floor in 27 minutes. While head coach Mike Anderson normally favors keeping most of his players below the 24 minute threshold, forward Laurence Bowers left in the first half with what Anderson said “might be a mild concussion,” after Longhorns stalwart Tristan Thompson threw an inadvertent elbow.
Texas defeated Missouri 77-58 in Austin.