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2003 state champion Tigers to reunite later this week during Class 4 championship game


For the second time in as many months, Ozark’s 2002-2003 Class 4 state champion boys basketball team will reunite this week for a 20th anniversary celebration. 

The Tigers will be recognized as part of the State Basketball Championships at Great Southern Bank Arena. They will be honored during the Class 4 State final at 2 p.m. Friday.

The team also got together and was saluted last month at halftime of an Ozark home game with Carl Junction. All but one player was on hand for the celebration.

“Coach (Steve) Hunter is amazing at reminding us how we need to bring ourselves back together as we get older,” said Nathan Bilyeu, an all-state forward for Ozark as a senior in 2003. “When you come together, you realize how important that time was. We’ll always remember that moment.”

“I've kept in touch with most of them, which is probably the greatest reward for being a coach,” Hunter said. “It’s great to see how they're all successful and have families now. Everyone is excited to see one another.

Ozark enjoyed a spectacular three-year stretch of Tigers basketball from 2002-2004 in which the program advanced to the Final Four each year.

Ozark won the Class 4 championship by beating Paseo Academy in the 2003 title tilt. The Tigers' only other state championship came in 1951.

This was an amazing group,” Bilyeu said. “In order to have a state championship group, it was about trusting each other. We trusted each one of us to make a game-winning shot. That's why we were so good and made the run we did.

"Coach Hunter came in (from Hartville) when (the 2002 seniors) were in the eighth grade. That was a pivotal move for Ozark basketball," Bilyeu added.

The early 2000s in SWMO basketball circles will always be remembered for featuring a slew of premier big men. The COC had future NCAA D-I front-line players in Ozark’s Bilyeu (Missouri State) and Sam Singh, Rogersville’s Drew Richards (Missouri State) and Branson’s Steven Hill (Arkansas). Also, Class 5 state champion Kickapoo had Anthony Tolliver (Creighton and the NBA). 

Ozark beat Rogersville in the Quarterfinal round on its way to State.

We were a medium-sized team at the time,” Bilyeu said. “The quality of basketball we played in, it's hard to say you could beat it. Not to knock anything anyone is doing now, but we were above and beyond.”