Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — The Missouri basketball team headed west Thursday in preparation for the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Though none of the Missouri players had been to Maui before, a certain Tigers point guard has some familiarity with the Aloha State.
“I’m not very smart,” coach Kim Anderson said. “I asked, ‘Hey, has anybody been to Hawaii?’ Shamburger raised his hand.”
That would be senior Keith Shamburger, who started 30 games for Hawaii last season before transferring to Missouri. He and the rest of the Tigers will have their hands full today, as Missouri takes on No. 2 Arizona in the Tigers’ first of three games in Maui.
The Tigers, coming off a blazing second-half shooting performance in a 78-64 defeat of Oral Roberts, say they’re confident about the challenging matchup.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar said. “We’re going into that game with confidence. We know we’re capable of competing with any team in the country. Doesn’t matter if it’s Arizona, Oral Roberts — doesn’t matter who it is. We’re going to go into each and every game with confidence.”
Shamburger said it was crucial to get the convincing win against Oral Reborts before hopping on a plane.
“This is going to be be the longest day of our lives with all the traveling,” he said Thursday from Los Angeles International Airport. “We would have thought about the loss all last night and today.”
Shamburger, who has a few friends in Hawaii trying to get tickets for Missouri’s games, said he has always wanted to play in the Maui Invitational. He is also excited to see some black sand, which he heard can be found on Maui.
He also wants to show off his new team while he revisits his old stomping grounds.
“I want to show everybody that I came to Mizzou for a reason,” he said.
While Shamburger transferred from the Rainbow Warriors to Missouri, the Tigers recently lost two transfers, Stefan Jankovic and Negus Webster-Chan, to Hawaii. Shamburger said he felt like he was part of a trade, though it’s too early to say which school got the better deal.
“Those are still my guys,” he said of Jankovic and Webster-Chan.
Anderson said the Tigers would have the weekend to get out and enjoy paradise, but the Tigers will have to shift their focus from sand to hardwood if they want to challenge the heralded Wildcats.
“I know Hawaii is, like, this nice place, but we’re going there with a reason, and that’s to win three games,” sophomore Johnathan Williams III said. “So that’s our main focus, just to go down there and have fun and be close as a team. That trip is like a growing experience for us. We’re going to be around each other the whole entire time, but you just got to go down there and take care of business, too, and get three wins.”
“It’s like going to Moberly,” Anderson joked. In October, the first-year coach took the team north to the mid-Missouri locale for a preseason getaway.
The Tigers played in one of seven Maui Invitational “opening games” against Missouri-Kansas City on Nov. 14 in Columbia. The game, Anderson’s first as Missouri’s coach, ended with the Tigers on the wrong side of an upset, as the Roos won 69-61. Anderson said that game served as a wakeup call for the inexperienced team, which features five freshmen and two transfers in its rotation.
“I had nothing to say after the game,” Shamburger said. “I felt like we had embarrassed everybody.”
The Tigers responded by winning its next two games, both at home. Missouri defeated Valparaiso 56-41 on Nov. 16 and Oral Roberts three days later.
Missouri plays Arizona at 4 p.m. CST today, and either Purdue or Kansas State at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Pittsburgh, Chaminade, BYU and San Diego State make up the other half of the bracket.
Arizona enters the game 3-0 and ranked No. 2 in both the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll. After the Oral Roberts win, Anderson said he had seen Arizona play some on television. He also mentioned he caught No. 1 Kentucky’s blowout of Kansas the night before.
“I hope 2’s not close to 1,” he said.
The Tigers will need a Herculean effort if they hope to top Arizona, but win or lose, the experience will be a good measuring stick for the young team.
“It’s going to be a great experience,” sophomore Wes Clark said. “Good to see where our team is and what strides we have to make toward March and how to build. We’re a young team, and we’re trying to find our chemistry and feel for each other, so we’re just looking to see where we’re at exactly.”