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Brooke Littrell 'never met a shot she didn't like.' She could carry Central Missouri in NCAA tourney

Andrew Mather Photography
University of Central Missouri Athletics
Brooke Littrell during the 2023 MIAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament quarterfinal game against the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 2. The Jennies were ranked 10th in the nation before the tournament.

Green City's claim to fame used to be the Hollywood actor who traded livestock there. Now, its known more for being home to one of the best female basketball players in college sports.

From the small town of Green City, Missouri, where an icon of American cinema once sold cattle, a new star has emerged: University of Central Missouri women’s basketball player Brooke Littrell.

Last week, she was named MIAA conference Player of the Year for the Jennies, and is a candidate for the NCAA’s Division II Player of the Year award. Littrell is also intent on leading the Jennies, who are 25-4 going into the NCAA tournament, to a national championship.

“She never met a shot she didn’t like,” UCM coach Dave Slifer said with a laugh. “It’s been quite the process of her learning what good shots are and whatnot.”

Slifer had never traveled to Green City until he started recruiting Littrell.

Way before she burst on the scene there, actor Richard Widmark got plenty of attention in Sullivan County as a cattle ranch owner and financial contributor to the construction of a now-closed airstrip, called the Richard Widmark Airport.

That part of Missouri has long been cattle country, according to retired Associate Circuit Court Judge Glenn Simmons, 84.

Charity Taylor
Though the Richard Widmark Airport in Green City is closed, the sign remains intact. The airstrip bearing the late actor’s name was once bustling with cattle buyers flying in from all over the country.

“Widmark just fit into the picture because it was a place where people could have feedlots and we had a wonderful local auction with livestock.”

In those days, the Academy Award-nominee was playing the unflappable police detective “Madigan” on-screen. His acting career continued well into the 1980s.

But Brooke Littrell has never heard of him. It’s no surprise, considering she turned 6 years old just days after Widmark’s death in 2008. She moved to Green City two years later.

Ever since her days at Green City High School, Littrell has been known as a scorer.

She once scored 57 points for the Lady Gophers, and the high school gym became the place to be when Littrell was on the floor.

“The whole town started coming out and watching the games, and watching Brooke, because you knew that you were watching something special when you watched her,” said former Green City Mayor Charity Taylor. “Even as a freshman, you knew she had a gift.”

Littrell acknowledged the transition to becoming a more rounded player on the college level, and adjusting to a faster game.

“We had a great team in my freshman year,” Littrell said. “Playing with those girls was also very good for me because they helped me with my confidence and they taught me a lot about the game.”

Littrell is also coping with the fact that her dad has been fighting cancer in the last year.

“It’s been difficult,” said Littrell, who’s in her third collegiate season. Littrell is listed as a redshirt sophomore thanks to an extra year of playing eligibility granted because of the COVID pandemic.

Andrew Mather Photography
University of Central Missouri Athletics
Central Missouri forward Brooke Littrell was named the MIAA Conference Player of the Year this season. She’s second in the conference in scoring and rebounding.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, and I just know it’s going to be 90% mental and 10% physical,” she said. “I just have to keep it in my brain that I’m tough and I can get through it.”

Littrell’s dad, Eric Littrell, grew up in Blue Springs, where he was heavily influenced by sharpshooting prospect Jon Sunvold, who went on to an outstanding career at the University of Missouri. In that vein, Eric was meticulous about his daughter’s free throw drills.

“Every time I went to the gym with him we would end with free throws, and none of them could hit the rim,” she said. “It’s done me good so far.”

Not only is Littrell now the MIAA leader in free throws made, she’s second in scoring (18.8 points per game) and rebounding (8.7 rebounds per game).

The 6-foot-2 forward also still keeps up that charity-stripe drill of her dad’s.

The path to a national championship

Last week after UCM’s practice in Warrensburg, Littrell hustled over to the St. Joseph Civic Arena, where she met up with her parents and friends, and cheered on the Green City High School boys. Her brother is a freshman on the basketball team, which reached the Class 1 state quarterfinals.

Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
Brooke Littrell and her mother, Barb Littrell, watched the Green City High School boys basketball team in the St. Joseph Civic Arena. The boys advanced to the Missouri Class 1 state quarterfinals.

It’s the same court where the women’s Division II national quarterfinals and semifinals will take place later this month, and Littrell can envision her Jennies playing there.

“I think we really can make it here, and I think everybody on the team has the same mindset of wanting to win and just grinding everything, every game, out,” Littrell said.

Central Missouri last won a national championship in 2018.

On Friday, they’ll begin play in an eight-team regional in Duluth, Minnesota. The winner will advance to quarterfinals in St. Joseph on March 20. The Division II national championship game will be played in Dallas on April 1.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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