Mike Wallace didn't say much when he arrived at Missouri State University-West Plains in fall 1998, but then again, he didn't have to. He let his play on the court do his talking, and it led to some of the best conversations – on and off the court – in Grizzly Basketball history.
"Mike was one of my favorite players," said Dean Smith, long-time color commentator for Grizzly Basketball. "He was such a good rebounder. He was big, strong and capable of getting the ball and putting in back in the hole. He did an outstanding job at it."
The 6-foot, 6-inch Moore, S.C., product began developing his talents at Dorman High School near Spartanburg, where he earned all-city, all-county, all-conference and all-state honors, and when he brought those talents to Missouri State-West Plains, it didn't take long for Grizzly coaches and fans to realize what a special player he was. He posted notable statistics in several games early in his freshman season, including an 18-point, 8-rebound performance against Missouri Valley College Nov. 19, 1998, and he was named MVP of the Mesa (Ariz.) Rotary Shootout Tournament midway through the season. His 15 points against Indian Hills Community College on Jan. 9, 1999, helped the Grizzlies defeat their Iowa counterparts and break the longest-running winning streak in collegiate basketball history at that time.
"He was my favorite Grizzly to watch," long-time Grizzly fan Dale Engelbrecht said. "He was very athletic and made some of the most spectacular plays on our court." Engelbrecht recalled one play in which Wallace took off from the free throw line and dunked the ball over the heads of the defenders. "It reminded me of a similar play the Missouri State Bears' Greg Bell did when he played for the team in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You don't see plays like that very much in junior college basketball, and that's why Mike's dunk stood out."
Wallace went on to help the Grizzlies post one of the best seasons on record in 1998-99. The team won five tournament titles, set the record for most wins in a season at 27, reached their highest national ranking at that time at No. 3, and won their second consecutive Region 16 Championship.
Wallace's sophomore season had its share of shining moments, as well. The Grizzlies went undefeated for 16 straight games to start the 1999-2000 campaign, they won their second Mesa Rotary Classic Tournament title and reached the highest NJCAA national ranking ever for the team at No. 2 on Jan. 19, 2000, with a 19-1 record. Individually, Wallace was named MVP of the Comet Cleaners Classic, and he recorded numerous double-double performances, including a 31-point, 16-rebound effort against Indian Hills on Jan. 8, 2000. Although the Grizzlies didn't win their third Region 16 title that year, they did post their best ever record of 27-5, and Wallace was named the Region 16 Player of the Year and an NJCAA second-team All-American with an average of 18 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
"Playing on those teams are some of my best memories at Missouri State-West Plains," Wallace said. "I believe we had two of the best teams in Grizzly history with those two teams."
Wallace also met one of his closest friends at Missouri State-West Plains – Robert Yanders. The fellow Grizzly Hall of Fame honoree played with Wallace both seasons, and the two developed a playing style that generated a lot of the Grizzlies' success during their careers. "Mike was very shy," Smith said. "He didn't talk much and just did his job, but with Robert's help, he really broke out of his shell and became a great team leader."
"Mike and Robert really complimented each other," Engelbrecht added. "Although he was in Robert's shadow in some ways, when it came to rebounding and moving without the ball and shooting, I think Mike's the best big guy we've ever had."
By the time Wallace graduated in summer 2000, he had made an indelible mark on the Grizzly stat book. At the end of his career, he was first in two-point field goals in a season (248 in 1999-2000); tied for first for most rebounds in a game (17); second in career two-point field goals (382), career rebounds (552), season scoring average (18.1) and season rebounds (301); and third in points in a career (943), career scoring average (14.5) and points scored in a season (579). He still remains at the top of the list for most two-point field goals in a season, is second in most two-point field goals in a career, third in most rebounds in a career, and tied for third for most rebounds in a game and second for most two-point field goals in a game. He also is third for most charges in a season (28 in 1999-2000) and second for most charges in a career (46).
Wallace transferred to Missouri State University in Springfield, along with Yanders, and continued to make opponents and fans take notice as a member of the Bears. He was the team's leading rebounder and field goal shooter both seasons he played at Missouri State, and he was named the Missouri Valley Conference's Newcomer of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year in 2001. He also was Missouri State's Coors Player of the Year in 2001.
Wallace admits the transition to an NCAA Division I program wasn't as difficult as one might believe, thanks in part to the work ethic and skill development he obtained at Missouri State-West Plains. "We had worked so hard at West Plains, it was easy to keep it going in Springfield," he said. "We were taught mental toughness, and we developed better endurance, and that carried over to my time in Springfield."
After two years at Missouri State, Wallace went to Europe to play professional basketball. He has played for several different teams, most recently with the CS Atun team in France. "It's a much slower game there, but I still continue to hustle, and I'll still stay after a game or practice to continue shooting," he said. "I'm always trying to go to the next level."