Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Defense has been first-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson’s M.O. since he began his dream job in April.
The Tigers spent the majority of their time on defense in the early stages of practice, and it showed when Missouri allowed just 31 points on nine field goals in an exhibition against William Jewell.
But the Tigers will have to score some points this year.
“I think the idea of defense, defense, defense, defense, defense — I think that’s been overemphasized a little bit,” Anderson said in a media appearance Wednesday. “I like offense. I like to score. I shot it every time when I was playing.”
Anderson said the Tigers have begun to spend more time on offense in practice.
“Defense has been our focus since whenever coach got the job,” junior forward Ryan Rosburg said. “So (we’re) not so much switching gears but shooting more towards the offense, just because we’ve spent so much time on defense. We know that we have our fundamentals defensively established and just have to take the offense to the next level.”
Unlike last season, that offense will be coming from more than a few select players. In Frank Haith’s final year at Missouri, Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross each averaged 14 or more points per game. With those three gone, the 2014-15 Tigers’ innundation of fresh faces will have to replace 70 percent of last year’s scoring.
Anderson’s squad consists of just four returning players, two transfers and five freshmen who figure to see playing time — and he expects the scoring to heavily distributed.
“I would like to play on this team, because everybody has the opportunity to score,” he said, “and I’m not just talking about the first five guys. I’m talking about 11 guys.”
Rosburg added: “I think that’s going to make us hard to prepare for, knowing that we’ve got seven, eight guys who could score 10, 15 points a night. I really don’t know who will be the leading scorer. Five or six guys, I would bet, but at this point, you don’t really know.
“I think that just being well-rounded (helps), and if someone has an off game, we have other guys to back him up.”
Nonetheless, Missouri will need a few point-scorers to emerge if it hopes to compete in Anderson’s first year. Missouri’s coaches hope freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar will be able to fill that role, and they have asked him to play more aggressively with the ball.
“All the coaches told me that, actually,” Gill-Caesar said, “that they want me to be a little bit more selfish on the offensive end, to just take the shots that are there for me.”
Another point-scoring boost could come with the return of Johnathan Williams III, who has missed time this preseason with a slight meniscus tear. Williams scored 5.8 points per game last season, tops among returning players.
“J3 is a good scorer, a good shooter and can stretch the floor from a 5 standpoint or a 4 standpoint,” point guard Wes Clark said. “So he’s just going to give us more options to score the ball and provide some defensive help.”
Clark, one of the team’s four returning players, said Anderson’s offense has a different look than Haith’s did.
“We play a little more through the post than last year with the confidence and the way guys are playing now,” Clark said. “We use the post as a starting focus of the offense, so instead of us playing more off the pick-and-roll like last year and an isolation-type game, we come out of the post.”
Associate head coach Tim Fuller has noticed the difference as well.
“Coach Anderson’s is like a motion offense, and there’s a lot of freedom,” he said. “So guys can move the basketball, and he’s teaching them how to read and use possessions instead of the more structured order (of) coming up and down and using ball screens.”
Still, don’t get any ideas about this being an offense-first team. Baylor transfer Deuce Bello said while the team needs to find more ways to score, “I don’t think you can overemphasize defense.”
“We’re always going to hedge our bets on our defense,” Fuller said. “Our defense is the staple of the team. Our identity is going to be our defense. Offense, we do it because that’s what we need to do and we’ll score points, but defense is going to be the identity of the team.”
Missouri will wrap up its exhibition schedule Saturday against Missouri-St. Louis. Game time is 2 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.