Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
The result of today’s basketball game between the Missouri Tigers and the Missouri Western Griffons (7 p.m., SEC Network+) will not make a dent in either team’s win-loss record.
Still, coming off a 9-23 season in Kim Anderson’s first year as coach, the Tigers wouldn’t mind taking a win where they can get it.
The exhibition, Missouri’s only one this season, ends a nearly eight-month hibernation during which the Tigers lost three of their leading four scorers — with two transferring. The undersized Tigers also lost a center to graduation, and a little-used walk-on decided to walk off in favor of school.
With so many subtractions, tonight’s game might begin to reveal what can be made of Missouri’s additions. The Tigers added five freshmen — three guards and two forwards, one of whom is a walk-on. Also making their debut at Mizzou Arena are junior-college transfers Martavian Payne and Russell Woods of John A. Logan College.
“Are they more talented?” Anderson said, referring to this year’s team. “That remains to be seen. I think we have some individual talent. How cohesive will they be? I think last year’s team did not have good chemistry. It’s not because they were bad guys. They just didn’t fit together.”
Another addition is junior guard Wes Clark, who missed the final eight games of last season with a dislocated right elbow.
“I think that him watching us play last year was so hard on him,” center Ryan Rosburg said, “and he’s just itching to get back out there. I think that he’s kind of had that competitiveness and that chip on his shoulder all offseason, and I know he’s ready to get back out there.”
Clark and Rosburg are the only two upperclassmen on the team who aren’t in their first season at Missouri. With such a young team, Clark has had to be a leader both with his play and with his talk.
“I do a little bit of both,” he said. “I try to encourage the guys to perform better and give their all, but at the same time I try to show them the way and perform my best as well.”
The 6-foot-10 Rosburg is the team’s tallest player by two inches.
“I think it’s going to be huge, being the tallest guy and the biggest guy on the team, because I’m going to be expected to guard their biggest guy,” Rosburg said. “But I think from a defensive perspective, we’ve all got to help in, and it’s not going to be just me guarding one guy or me boxing out one guy. We’ve all got to rebound together and play D together.”
Anderson cited Missouri Western’s ties to the Big 12 as part of the reason the teams are playing an exhibition together. Griffons coach Brett Weiberg is the nephew of Kevin Weiberg, who was the commissioner of the Big 12 when Anderson was hired as the conference’s director of operations in 1999. Anderson went on to be assistant commissioner of the Big 12 before leaving to coach Central Missouri, where the Griffons were a league foe in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
“So if you’re trying to put the dots together (of) ‘Why are we playing Missouri Western?’” Anderson said, “it’s because, first of all I thought it’d be good for our basketball team, but also I have a great deal of appreciation to Kevin for giving me an opportunity a long time ago to be an administrator at the Big 12.”
Anderson highlighted Griffons point guard Aaron Emmanuel as a player Missouri will have to keep tabs on, as well as 6-foot-8 forward Kevin Thomas.
“I know they try to get the ball to (Thomas) quite a bit,” Anderson said. “It’ll be a good test for us from that standpoint, because we are a little bit undersized, and so it’ll give us an opportunity to kind of see where we’re at in that department.”
As important as Rosburg will be for Missouri in the paint this season, the team’s lone senior hopes to see improvement elsewhere, too — at the foul line.
Rosburg made just 56.9 percent of his free throws last season, missing 12-of-14 at one stretch.
“To be completely honest, it threw off my whole game,” he said. “My thoughts were just not where they needed to be, and shoot, I just didn’t want to shoot free throws. And I think that that’s changed a lot, and coach (Brad) Loos and coach (Steve) Shields this year have been big on me changing mechanics and getting a lot of reps in practice. I think that comfortability is going to help.”
Anderson said he has seen improvement since last season.
“You’ve got to be in the position where you’re not afraid to be fouled because you don’t want to go to the free-throw line,” he said. “I think he’s getting there.”
Though Rosburg has worked on his mechanics, much of his struggles from the charity stripe were mental, he said.
“It’s just a chance to get more points,” he said. “So I think of it like that and just not a chance to mess up, which it was before.”
He made his lone free-throw attempt in Missouri’s Black and Gold scrimmage.
“One hundred percent,” he said, adding: “Hopefully you guys don’t jinx me now.”
Notes: Though they won just nine games, last year’s Tigers did come out on top in both of their exhibition games. Missouri defeated William Jewell 72-31 and Missouri-St. Louis 77-56. … Anderson announced Tuesday that Hayden Barnard, a 6-foot-10 sophomore walk-on, was stepping away from the team to focus on getting into business school. “After he and I visited,” Anderson said, he “felt like he needed to probably spend a little more time studying than playing basketball, so certainly we wish him well. Great young man.” Anderson said if Barnard wanted to return to the team at semester or in the spring, he would be open to the idea.