Mizzou’s basketball teams — men and women — reach for the top of the Southeastern Conference.
(in Kansas City)
|Las Vegas Invitational
||in Las Vegas, Nev.|
(in St. Louis)
|12/28||at North Carolina State|
|01/04||Long Beach State|
|02/08||at Ole Miss|
in Atlanta, Ga.
As Coach Frank Haith readies the Mizzou men’s basketball team for the 2013–14 season, questions abound regarding leadership. Will someone assume the “quarterback” role now that point guard Phil Pressey is a Boston Celtic? Will a new veteran represent the steady voice and character of former forward Laurence Bowers, BA ’12, M Ed ’13? Will a different big man replace the intensity of Phoenix Suns second-round draft pick Alex Oriakhi, BGS ’13?
Haith’s answer: Yes.
“We’re still defining our leaders,” says Haith, who enters his third season at Missouri. “Jabari Brown leads with his play. Jordan Clarkson is capable but hasn’t yet played here. Between those two guys and Earnest Ross, it’s a collective.”
That trio of transfer guards — Brown from Oregon and Clarkson from Tulsa in 2012, and Ross from Auburn in 2011 — will enjoy Mizzou’s center stage. Brown (junior, Oakland, Calif.) averaged 14.6 points to lead the Tigers during Southeastern Conference play, while Ross (senior, Cary, N.C.) was the league’s top scorer off the bench.
Clarkson (junior, San Antonio), who honed his skills while sitting out 2012–13, is eager to impress. During the summer, he attended NBA star Chris Paul’s invitation-only camp for elite guards.
“High energy, athletic, a good scorer, I get my teammates involved, and I’m good on defense,” says Clarkson, describing his comprehensive skill set.
Missouri also welcomes freshmen Wes Clark (Detroit) and Shane Rector (New York), who will share point-guard duties with Clarkson. Clark led his high school team to the state championship, while Rector directed his squad to New York’s city title.
“We struggled with our guard play [in 2012–13], and Phil had some tough moments,” Haith says. “We like to have three guards who can handle the ball in our system, and now we do.”
In the paint, the Tigers introduce another top-level junior college transfer in Keanau Post (junior, Victoria, British Columbia), as well as Jonathan Williams III (freshman), a three-time all-state honoree from Memphis, Tenn. Expect to see more of sophomores Ryan Rosburg (Chesterfield, Mo.) and Stefan Jankovic (Mississauga, Ontario) underneath the basket along with Torren Jones, a developing freshman forward from Chandler, Ariz.
Haith also expects improvement from forward Tony Criswell, a red shirt senior from Oklahoma City.
“I’ve been working on hook shots and left-hand finishes around the rim,” says Criswell of his offseason regimen. “I’m still working on becoming a leader and trying to earn Coach’s trust. It has been a long time coming. I’m grateful.”
Twenty-seven months after allegations of improprieties, Mizzou learned Oct. 22, 2013, that the NCAA will suspend Haith for five games from Nov. 8–25 for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance from 2004-11 at the University of Miami. Although he disagrees with the NCAA report, Haith says he will not appeal the decision, a process which would have dragged into the regular season.
Haith thinks the NCAA decision won’t affect his ability to continue bringing high-profile recruits and transfers into a perennial top-25 program.
The Tigers will face similar big names during their nonconference schedule — including West Virginia (Dec. 5), UCLA (Dec. 7), Illinois (Dec. 21, St. Louis) and at North Carolina State (Dec. 28) — and they should have a clear sense of self by the time SEC play begins with Georgia Jan. 8, 2014, at Mizzou Arena.
“It’s hard to make the NCAA Tournament every year as you could see from Kentucky, which won the championship [in 2012] and didn’t even make the tournament last season,” Haith says. His Tigers finished 23–11 in 2012–13 after a school-record-tying fifth consecutive tournament appearance. “I think the SEC will be strong again, with six or seven teams in the tournament.”
His prediction, of course, includes Mizzou making its record-breaking sixth consecutive trip to the Big Dance.
Climbing the Ladder
|U of Miami Thanksgiving Tournament||in Coral Gables, Fla.|
|11/30||at Miami or St. Francis|
|12/19||at Missouri State|
|01/02||at Ole Miss|
|01/26||at Mississippi State|
|02/02||at South Carolina|
in Fayeteville, Ark.
When Robin Pingeton was introduced as the new head coach of Mizzou women’s basketball in April 2010, she aimed high.
“It’s been our dream, as a staff, to coach in an institution where you could truly compete for a national championship,” she said, speaking for colleagues who moved with her from Illinois State University. “I think this is a place we can get it done.”
Pingeton’s program took a significant step toward that lofty goal Feb. 3, 2013, by defeating perennial powerhouse Tennessee 80–63 at Mizzou Arena. It was a signature win against a basketball blue blood and a brag to trumpet on the recruiting trail.
“I think this past season opened a lot of people’s eyes,” says Pingeton, whose team finished 17–15 overall and 14–5 at home. “[Recruits and parents] are starting to embrace what we’re building here.”
Doty (sophomore, St. Louis) is a magician at the point with a penchant for highlight-reel passes à la former men’s guard Phil Pressey. She embraced her leadership role this offseason by encouraging her teammates to make a 20,000-shot commitment. Each Tiger to sign up pledged to make 2,500 game-type shots during weekly summer practice sessions to reach the milestone.
“I tried to come up with a number that would be doable but challenging,” says Doty, who led SEC freshmen with 4.72 assists per game. “It was especially important for me because the coaches helped change my shot toward the end of last season.”
The Tigers also united for a summer camping trip to Eye’s hometown of Montrose, Mo., population 384. The farmer’s daughter broke the Mizzou single-game record twice in 2012–13, drilling eight 3-pointers against UT Martin and then 11 against Auburn.
“The trip was a huge team-bonding moment for us,” says Eye, a junior. “I’d say our No. 1 strength is chemistry. We have a lot of unselfish girls.”
Kulas (senior, Shawnee Mission, Kan.), the team’s top scorer who averaged 13.8 points per game, earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2012–13. She will be joined in the paint by fellow Kansan and (gasp) Jayhawk alumna Tania Jackson. The redshirt senior’s graduate status allowed her to transfer and play immediately without sitting out for a season.
“There’s obviously a learning curve going from high school to the SEC,” she says. “They both shoot the ball well and have a high basketball IQ.”
Experienced guard Bree Fowler (junior, Kansas City, Mo.) might be the best athlete on the team, and former (Columbia) Rock Bridge High School guard Lindsey Cunningham redshirted as a freshman last season to develop her formidable all-around skills.
“I’ve been born and raised a Missouri Tiger,” says Cunningham whose father, Jim, BS Ed ’82, played football and mother, Paula, BJ ’89, ran track. “Not just women’s games but also men’s games and football games. It’s a dream come true.”
The Tigers fell to Eastern Illinois 60–58 in the first round of the 2013 Women’s National Invitational Tournament. For Pingeton to fulfill her national championship dreams, the Tigers must take the next step to the NCAA Tournament.
“Any time you build something, you experience adversity and challenging days,” Pingeton says. “We’re not where we used to be, but we’re not satisfied because we’re a long way from where we want to be. The only answer is a lot of hard work, and we’re committed to doing that.”