When it comes to competitive spirit, no Grizzly at Southwest Missouri State University-West Plains (Missouri State University-West Plains) has emulated it more than Eric Judd. Maybe that’s because the 6-1 guard from West Plains, the first Zizzer to play for the Grizzlies, hates to lose.
“When you get accustomed to winning, it’s pretty bitter when you don’t,” Judd said during a recent interview. That could be why two of the Grizzlies’ most successful years occurred while he was a member of the team.
“When I think about Eric Judd, I think about what his teams accomplished,” said Jay Gentry, play-by-play announcer for the Missouri State University-West Plains radio broadcasts. Those accomplishments include the Grizzlies’ first wins over Three Rivers Community College, a near upset of the nation’s then number one team, Indian Hills Community College in 1998, and the program’s first Region 16 title in 1998.
“Eric brought a level of determination to the team that it never had before,” said Dean Smith, color commentator during the Grizzly game radio broadcasts. “Every time he took the court, he never believed the team would lose, and he would do whatever it took to help the team win.”
Judd developed that winning attitude at West Plains High School, where he helped lead the Zizzers to its best performances in recent history. During his three years on the varsity team, the Zizzers posted a compiled record of 73-17, captured the second-place trophy in the Class 4A Missouri State Basketball Championships in 1996, won back-to-back Blue and Gold Tournament titles in Springfield, won three Houston High School Invitational Tournament championships, and won two South Central Association Conference crowns.
His competitive spirit also earned him numerous individual honors while in high school. He was named to the Class 4A All-State first team, All-District first team and All-Ozarks team his junior and senior years, and he was the SCA Player of the Year those same two seasons.
Judd brought that same competitive spirit to Missouri State University-West Plains and used it to spur the Grizzlies to some of their best court performances. On Feb. 1, 1997, against Three Rivers in Poplar Bluff, Judd had to pick himself off the floor after being fouled hard on a three-point bucket. “He got up and did a fist pump,” Gentry recalled, pointing out Judd sank the free-throw attempt, as well. “It was a momentum-swinging play. It represented our determination.” It also helped lead the Grizzlies to their second win of the season against Three Rivers.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 1996, after losing to Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College the night before in the Indian Hills tournament, Judd showed everyone on the team just how much he hated losing when he and teammate Brian Bunche battled for several seconds over the ball during a rebounding drill at a two-hour practice. Neither stopped until a whistle was blown, Gentry recalled. That following evening, the Grizzlies buried Des Moines Area Community College 132-83.
Judd had one of his best games as a freshman against Three Rivers in the Region 16 semifinals on March 5, 1997. He scored 22 points, hitting three of six from three-point range, and dished out six assists in the Grizzlies’ third win of the season over the Raiders. He also helped lead Missouri State University-West Plains to an 82-64 upset Jan. 3, 1998, over then 11th-ranked Utah Valley State College in the Las Vegas Junior College Invitational Tournament with his 28 points and five assists, and he was instrumental in the Grizzlies’ near dethroning of then-no. 1 Indian Hills on Feb. 7, 1998, scoring 20 points and handing out seven assists. “They showed no fear in the face of nationally-ranked competition,” Gentry said of Judd and his teammates. “You really felt that, wherever you took that team, they’d be ready.”
The highlight for Judd, though, was winning the Region 16 Championship in 1998. “That’s a great memory for me,” he said, explaining the championship was the ultimate goal of the sophomores at that time. Judd scored 14 points in that contest.
Because of Judd’s competitive spirit, smart court play and effective shooting skills, he can still be found among the top players in the Grizzly all-time record book. He remains second on the list for most three point field goals in a season with 105 during the 1997-98 season and second on the list for most three point field goals in a career with 153 between 1996-1998. He is second for best three point shooting percentage in a career with 42.3 percent (153/362), he is third on the list for best free throw shooting percentage in a career with 81.8 percent (162/198)‚ and he is second for most steals in a game (8 vs. Northwest Mississippi on Nov. 22, 1997) and most steals in a season (88 in 1997-98).
After graduating from Missouri State University-West Plains with an Associate of Arts in General Studies degree in 1998, he transferred to Missouri State University-Springfield (SMSU) in Springfield where he became part of one of the most successful teams in Bear history. During his junior year with the team, he found himself in the midst of the Bears’ run to the NCAA Sweet 16 and a date with top-ranked Duke in East Rutherford, N.J. “We had actually joked about (playing Duke) mid-season,” Judd recalled. “When we won (the first two games in the tournament) and figured out who we’d be playing, it made it an even bigger joke. Duke was so good that year. But it was easy for everyone. There was no pressure.” Although the Bears lost to Duke, the experience became another one of the highlights of Judd’s collegiate career.
During Judd’s two years with the Bears, the team posted records of 22-11 and 23-11, placed second twice in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, and made post-season appearances in the NCAA National Tournament and the NIT postseason tournament. Judd was co-captain of the team his senior season and received the Guy Thompson Award in 2000, which is given to an outstanding senior basketball player who excelled academically, as well as in athletics. He graduated from SMSU in 2000 with a Bachelor in Finance degree, and he received his Master in Business Administration degree from SMSU in 2004. He is currently living in West Plains with his wife, former Lady Grizzly volleyball player DeAun Gray, and their seven-month-old daughter, Ashton, and working as an assistant vice president/loan officer at West Plains Bank and Trust Company.
Judd said he is flattered to be selected to the Grizzly Hall of Fame. “I really appreciate it. I had a great time at Missouri State University-West Plains with my teammates, living in the dorm, playing basketball, and I would like to thank all of the individuals behind the scene who give young men and women the opportunity to go to college and play a particular sport. The program would not be as successful as it is today without the complete support of the community. It makes me proud to be a hometown graduate.”