If there is one word to describe the 1985-86 Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team, it's togetherness.
So said several members of the squad who were at the Show Me Center on Friday night for the university's Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
That team, which finished second in the NCAA Division II national tournament, was part of Southeast's sixth induction class, along with four individuals.
"That was one of the closest-knit groups I've ever been around," said Charleston native Michael Morris, the point guard for that squad who led the then-Indians in assists with 136. He now lives in Sikeston and works for the highway patrol. "It was just a special group."
No question about it, said Ronny Rankin, the sweet-shooting senior wing player who paced that Southeast unit with a scoring average of 20.5 points per game.
"What I remember the most is how close we were," said Rankin, who also averaged better than 20 points per game as a junior after transferring from junior college. "We didn't need to join a fraternity. We had our own fraternity.
"You never saw one guy by himself. We were so close. ... We're still close today."
Seven of the 12 squad members attended the induction ceremony, which was held in the main part of the Show Me Center and attended by nearly 500 people.
Along with Rankin and Morris, other players on hand were Ron Armstrong, Eddie Hart, Carl Nicholson, Kirt Cochran and Malcomn Henry.
Rounding out that team were Riley Ellis, Anthony "Butch" Hall, Ray Pugh, Derick Turner and Chris Edwards. Ellis, a powerful senior center, averaged a team-best 8.9 rebounds as he and Rankin were the squad's biggest stars.
Some of the other players might be on hand tonight, when the squad and the four individual inductees will be introduced at halftime of Southeast's basketball game with Tennessee Tech.
The entire coaching staff attended Friday's event, and by far the biggest ovation of the evening took place as head coach Ron Shumate was introduced and brought on stage, following the players and assistants Sam Weaver and Alan Barnett.
"I'm glad to be home," Shumate told the enthusiastic gathering, much of which closely followed the career of the school's all-time winningest men's basketball coach.
Shumate built a struggling Division II program into one of the nation's finest. In Southeast's last 10 Division II seasons -- all under Shumate -- the Indians won at least 20 games nine times and made eight national tournament appearances, including two runner-up finishes.
"It was such a defining part of my life to coach these guys," said Shumate, now retired and living in Chattanooga, Tenn. "Our chemistry was so good."
Shumate, who went 306-171 in 16 seasons at Southeast, believes that 1985-86 team would have captured the national title had Rankin not gone down with severe leg cramps with about nine minutes left in the tight championship game.
Without Rankin, who had scored 35 points in the national semifinal, Sacred Heart took control despite 35 points from Ellis. Rankin finished with 21 points as Southeast lost 93-87 to end its school-record 18-game winning streak.
"I think if Ronny hadn't gotten the cramps, we would have brought the big trophy home," said Shumate, whose squad that season went 27-7.
Rankin believes the same thing. He said the memory of cramping up and not being able to play much the rest of the way is still somewhat painful, although he was able to smile about it Friday.
"I really believe we would have had that championship ring," said Rankin, who lives in Memphis, Tenn. -- not far from his hometown of Hernando, Miss. -- and drives a truck.
Rankin also regrets that he barely missed out on being able to take advantage of the 3-point line, which became standard for NCAA play during the 1986-87 season.
Although the versatile Rankin was a solid scorer from mid-range or driving to the basket, he got many of his points on smooth jumpers from farther than 20 feet -- often much longer.
"Man, if I could have played with that [the 3-pointer]," he said, shaking his head.
Rankin, who is married with two young sons, is a bit heavier than during his collegiate days. That's one of the reasons he good-naturedly said he no longer plays any type of competitive basketball.
"I don't play now because I'm not in as good of shape as I was," he said. "I'll play in the backyard ... me and my sons ... but as far as getting in a gym, no."
Although Rankin said he and several of his former teammates try to have an annual reunion in Cape Girardeau centered around Southeast's homecoming, he had not seen Shumate since 1986.
"First time in 21 years. It's great to see him," Rankin said. "It's great to see everybody."
All the coaches and players in attendance from that squad seemed to feel the same way.
"Most of these guys I haven't seen in 21 years. I'm glad everybody is wearing name tags," said Cochran, who grew up in Cape Girardeau and later served an assistant at Southeast.
Added Cochran, who now works in the insurance business and lives in Jefferson City: "This is fantastic. We always played as a team, and for us to go in [to the Hall of Fame] as a team is special for everybody."