Elevating Their Game
The Tigers storm the court in 2015–16.
Following the Tigers’ disappointing 9-23 season in 2014–15, men’s basketball head Coach Kim Anderson penned an earnest letter to Mizzou Nation. He promised a better brand of hoops in 2015–16: improved athletic performance, better team chemistry, a more efficient coaching and support staff, and a targeted recruiting focus, in addition to the ever-present goal of academic achievement.
“We’ve made some personnel changes,” says Anderson, BS Ed ’79, M Ed ’81. “We have new coaches and new players. I haven’t belabored last season, but as coaches, we went back and tried to evaluate everything from a physical and mental standpoint.”
Mizzou returns as many lettermen as the team lost (six) and must replace three of its top four 2014–15 scorers, who have moved on. Junior Wes Clark (Detroit), whose 11.7 average points per game in SEC play led the Tigers before a season-ending elbow injury in February, is healthy and provides stability at point guard.
Excellence Starts Here
This summer, Mizzou Athletics’ main fundraising arm, the Tiger Scholarship Fund (TSF), began transitioning to a new model that continues to reward longtime donors while providing newer donors ways to more rapidly earn benefits, such as priority seating and parking. The new system is more equitable and transparent.
Mizzou, which ranks 13th out of 14 SEC schools in total fundraising, is the seventh SEC school to utilize this Donor Level First model. The new system will credit all donations made to Mizzou Athletics toward Donor Level instead of only donations toward seating and parking. TSF supporters can check their donor-rank at tsfrankcalculator.com.
Anderson has challenged senior big man Ryan Rosburg (Chesterfield, Missouri) to solidify his leadership and improve offensively in the paint. Sophomore guard Namon Wright (Los Angeles), a solid shooter who steadily gained confidence in 2014–15, strengthened his defense this offseason. Forward Jakeenan Gant (Springfield, Georgia), and guards Tramaine Isabell (Seattle) and D’Angelo Allen (Dallas), all sophomores, shore up the roster.
But Anderson expects seven newcomers to test the veterans.
“Every one of these guys has a chance to contribute immediately,” Anderson says. “When you only win nine games, everybody gets a shot.”
In women’s basketball, optimism abounds after a 19-14 season hampered by injuries. Coach Robin Pingeton, who signed a new five-year contract this offseason, aspires to an NCAA Tournament berth.
“I feel really good about where we are as a program,” says Pingeton, whose 2014–15 Tigers defeated Kansas State in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament before falling to Michigan to end the season. “Am I satisfied? Absolutely not. Do I want more? You better believe it. But I’m very pleased with the growth we’ve had since I arrived” in 2010.
Mizzou’s strength resides in its four returning starters and seven other returnees, including point guard Liana Doty. The redshirt junior from St. Louis missed the 2014–15 campaign with a foot injury but feels she gained a year of coaching on the sideline.
Junior forward Jordan Frericks (Quincy, Illinois) averaged a near double-double last season with 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, good enough for second-team All-SEC honors. Sierra Michaelis, a junior guard from Mercer, Missouri, played more because of team injuries and finished second on the team in scoring with 10.4 points per game. And Lindsey Cunningham, a redshirt junior from local basketball powerhouse Rock Bridge High School, handled much of the point-guard duty in Doty’s absence. Cunningham welcomes to the squad younger sister Sophie, Mizzou’s first McDonald’s All-American.
The SEC will continue to be among the nation’s toughest conferences for both men and women. High-profile coaching hires and entrenched blue-blood programs make SEC recruiting a challenge. But both Anderson and Pingeton assure Mizzou basketball fans their sights are set on finding the best student-athletes and ushering them through to graduation.
“There are so many pieces that touch your program, and changing the culture is something we take very seriously,” says Pingeton, whose 2015 recruiting class was ranked No. 14 by Prospects Nation. “From your strength and conditioning staff to your marketing and media relations, the investment has got to equal the expectations. Everyone has to be on point in regards to helping elevate a program to the national scene.”