MU fans should be happy NBA didn't take their best

Watching the NBA Draft on ESPN, Missouri basketball fans didn't really have anything to root for, except maybe the possibility of one of KU's cornbred seniors, Nick Collison or Kirk Hinrich, falling out of the lottery. And that was admittedly...a stretch.

Mizzou fans have been somewhat spoiled with the draft recently; both Kareem Rush and Keyon Dooling have been selected in the first round in the past-half decade. But no Tigers were drafted this year.

Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. While the Beakers make toasts this evening in honor of the achievements of their former players, Tiger fans have just a few lonely months of hardball and the gridiron until an exciting basketball season kicks off. The most anticipated in recent memory? Perhaps.

Would MU basketball supporters have been stoked for Ricky Paulding or Arthur Johnson tonight if either one had lucked into a first round spot? Sure. But should they be more excited that the pair of soon-to-be seniors are instead trying to earn a spot on this summer's Pan-Am Games team, which, coincidentally, will have Quin Snyder on the sidelines as Tom Izzo's assistant? I think so.

It's a safe bet that Mizzou will end up in most preseason top 10 lists. Transfer Jason Conley will step in a game before the annual Bragging Rights contest against Illinios in St. Louis this December. Conley led the nation in scoring during his freshman campaign at VMI. Mizzou has him for the next two seasons.

They have a recruting class regarded as one of the nation's best. Lithuanian power forward Linus Kleiza could challenge Kevin Young and Travon Bryant for minutes at the high post, or even a starting slot. Thomas Gardner, an Oregon native, is an athlete who can step in and spell Paulding and Conley. Former Billiken and JUCO transfer Randy Pulley should be able to efficiently run the team. If he stumbles, St. Louis stud Jimmy McKinney and incoming freshman Spencer Laurie can both log time at the one.

Depth and additions aside, this season boils down to one subject: seniors. Quin Snyder's best recruiting class since his Duke days (of Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer, for instance) graduates next May.

Arthur Johnson, the big man in the lane, is on pace to control the top spots in a couple of Mizzou's all-time statistical categories. He's already the leading shot blocker in Tiger history; he's also on pace to eclipse Doug Smith's #1-ranked career rebound mark. And with an average season, he could realistically end up as one of the five most prolific scorers at the school, ever. That's a package.

Paulding will likely finish his career in the top 20 in rebounds, assists, and steals. Well rounded for a guard-forward tweener. And, impressively, he'll also be contending for a spot as one of the top five scorers in Mizzou history this year.

And to think that these two guys grew up playing pickup games together in Detriot. Add the minutes of leadership and support that former McDAA Travon Bryant is still around to provide, and it seems this senior class defies the recent rule of underclassmen defections to the NBA. Three seniors that can play? And I don't mean "dive for loose balls", I mean "play".

The Jayhawks' duo of former AAU high school teammates stepped on stage tonight and were introduced to their new pro teams.

Tiger fans should be glad that they can wait until next year to cheer for such a feat.

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