Last weekend, big man Jon Underwood took an official visit to Missouri to check out what Mike Anderson and the Mizzou basketball program had to offer. Accompanied on the visit by his father Jon Sr., the 6-foot-10 inch center who spent a prep year at Lanham (MD) Princeton Academy felt strongly enough about the program that he committed.
After finishing high school in the Phoenix area, Underwood found himself one core credit short of college qualification despite good grades and a qualifying standardized test score. As it turns out, the year of prep school should greatly aid in making the transition to college.
"I think it helped him out a lot. He's my youngest son and he's always been with me and I'm a single parent," said Jon Sr. "No kid wants to leave home alone, but he had to go. By him going it got him prepared and out from under my wing. He spread his own wings and is a young man now."
While both father and son greatly enjoyed the town and what the school had to offer, it was the family atmosphere created by Anderson, his staff and their families that sealed the deal for the Underwoods.
"Columbia is a very nice college town, pretty and all," said the elder Underwood. "But, the main thing that attracted both me and him was the coaching staff and how they were like a family. We'd been to other schools and I'm not talking bad about them at all. But, when we got to Mizzou, the coach and his wife, the assistant coaches and their wives all took care of these kids like they were a family."
As a single parent, that feeling of family and trust that somebody would be watching over his son was incredibly important for Jon Sr.
"I was like wow, if I left my son with these guys I know he's in good hands. I know that he'll be taken care of," Mr. Underwood told Inside Mizzou. "When your child goes away to college and they are so far away, you want to make sure you are putting them in the right hands."
"The way coach Anderson works with those boys, he's a quiet person but he knows his game. He pushes them and they run," said Mr. Underwood. "When I saw them running and playing, it was teamwork. It wasn't one person taking the ball and being Kobe, it was a team. They were working, they were also having fun."
That teamwork and up and down style was something that really appealed to Jon Jr. as well.
"When Jon got off the court he was like this is fun," said Mr. Underwood. "I asked him if this is what he wants and he said yeah, this is the Big 12."
According to Mr. Underwood, his son is still growing and doctors have said that he could grow as tall as seven feet. Not surprisingly, defense is his strong suit. Junior is also working to add to his body.
"He blocks shots. He's a block shot master. He's averaging like 9 or 10 blocks a game and that's amazing," said the elder Underwood of his son's game. "What we're focusing on right now is getting him stronger and putting some weight on him. He's got all the basketball ability that he needs. He's just got to get stronger. He's lifting weights and running like three miles a day and getting lots of protein."
Finally, with his decision behind him, Underwood is counting down the days to his arrival in Columbia. In fact, it's that chance to play in the Big 12 that the future Tiger's father says is a driving force.
"Being in the Big 12 conference," said Mr. Underwood when asked about what his son was most looking forward to. "He's a very competitive kid. He loves to compete against guys that are supposed to be better than him."