On Monday, basketball practice got underway for the 2013 Missouri Tigers. On Tuesday, Coach Frank Haith talked about getting started on the fast-approaching new season, and gave us some insight into the make-up of his team.
“Yesterday’s first practice was enthusiastic,” explained Coach Haith on Tuesday. “I thought we competed…………………………………. I thought our guys handled themselves very well. I think we’re a team that’s got good size. I think our guard play is good. We’re big, and we’re pretty athletic. So, I’m excited about working with this group.”
“Our goals are the same every year,” said Coach Haith. “I think we want to play in post-season. And, I don’t think we’ll ever waiver from that in terms of our recruiting, how we want to recruit. We want to get quality student-athletes that give us a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament, and play in post-season, and win games in (the) post-season. That’s our goal every year. We’re not backing off of that for this year’s team. Now, this year’s team only has two seniors. We’ve got a lot unproven. Our front line, I think, is talented. But we’ve still got to see those guys do it with the lights on. And until we do, I’ll have a better feel where I think this team can finish.”
In listening to Coach Haith and his players, it’s clear that the Tigers have 5 players who will be classified as guards, 5 players who are seen as power forwards and centers, and 1 player who is considered to be a combo forward. More on the individual breakdown later, but it’s also clear that Coach Haith plans to play 3 guards most of the time, which means there’s a lot more playing time available for the 5 guards than there is for the 5-6 front court players.
In listening to Coach Haith, it’s clear that he sees 6’5” junior combo guard Jordan Clarkson, 6’5” junior SG Jabari Brown, and 6’5” senior SF Ernest Ross as his top 3 guards, with 6’1” freshman PG Wes Clark figuring in prominently. The 5th guard in the mix is 6’1” freshman PG Shane Rector, and it sounds like he’ll be counted on to play, as well.
There appears to be a greater emphasis on defense. From what Coach Haith says, and from what the players say, there’s been an emphasis on defending in practice. Coach Haith said that he's asked his new assistant coach, Mark Phelps, to focus on helping the Tigers improve their defense.
“Jordan Clarkson is, by far, our best defender,” said Coach Haith. “He’s really good on the ball. He’s good off the ball. He has great instincts. He runs down loose balls.”
“Wes Clark is a pretty good defender, too,” said Coach Haith. “Wes is our other really good perimeter defender right now, and both (Clark and Clarkson) are really committed to defending, and that really helps your defense.”
Coach Haith said that Clark is going to play a lot, and that he and Clarkson will play simultaneously, as well.
“Trust me, Wes Clark is going to play a lot of minutes at the one,” said Coach Haith. “I mean, Wes Clark is very, very good.”
“When you talk about a line-up of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, and Ernest Ross, all those guys are six-five and long,” said Coach Haith. “We can shut down passing lanes, driving lanes, and be effective defensively………………………………… All three of those guys can really score. I think they’ll be our leading scorers on our team, too.”
Coach Haith identified 6’11” sophomore Stefan Jankovic as a “combo” forward, capable of playing either forward position, depending on his ability to adequately defend.
“I see him being a combo (forward),” said Coach Haith, talking about Jankovic. “Because, you know, he’s really worked hard at guarding on the perimeter. I do think he brings some things at the small forward spot even though he’s six-ten, six-eleven. If he’ll rebound from that position, he’ll be great. If he can defend that position, he’ll be great. At the four spot, he probably has a chance to get open a lot, because big guys are not used to guarding a guy away from the basket, like him. So, I think he’s got to be versatile to be able to play both spots. And I look at our team, we’re a really good shooting team……………………………………… This team is a really good shooting team.”
From listening to Coach Haith, the one frontcourt player who seems assured of being in the starting line-up is 6’11” junior Keanau Post, who will almost certainly open the season as the starting center.
I got the impression from listening to Coach Haith that 6’10” sophomore big man Ryan Rosburg will see plenty of playing time, likely as a substitute for Post.
“Ryan (Rosburg) has had a great summer,” said Coach Haith. “He’s made great strides. I anticipate him being a guy that will give us some really good minutes.”
There appears to be less certainty regarding the power forward position, although 6’9” senior Tony Criswell would seem to have the edge in experience.
Of course, Jankovic can play the four position, and he may very well claim that starting job. There’s also a pair of freshmen, in 6’9” Johnathan Williams III and 6’8” Torren Jones. Coach Haith said that Torren Jones doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, but he said that the big man reminds him of former Miami basketball player and current NFL TE Jimmy Graham.
“He’s a specimen,” said Coach Haith, speaking of Jones. “He reminds me of Jimmy Graham in terms of his tenacity and going after loose balls. Now, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t have a clue about what he’s doing right now. But in terms of toughness, and grit, and physicality, I mean, he has all of those intangibles.”