Tiger hoops opens practice

After choosing not to hold a Midnight Madness event, the Tigers returned to practice early Saturday morning. Read on for the thoughts of coach Quin Snyder and the players, along with some opinions on Missouri's many newcomers.

Coach Quin Snyder

On his impressions of the first day of practice: "Not a whole lot of impressions on the first day. Hopefully, you get better every day and that's what you want to accomplish on the first day. There are some good things. This is the first time we've really seen our team altogether and that's always fun."

On being anxious to start the season: "I think you're always anxious to start the season. I think this is a special season because of the new facility, too; that adds a little bit of excitement. We've got a lot of new players. For me, it's been looking forward to having a chance to coach some of these guys. Almost half of our team is new. Sometimes that will take us a little while, but right now we're really focused on trying to play great defense. We'll take as much time as we need on that."

On the freshmen being able to contribute immediately: "I think they need to see themselves that way. I feel like we have a deep team and I think we have versatility on this team. We can play a lot of different lineups. As a coach, you want to see separation. I think we will see some separation over the course of the next month. We've got a lot of competition right now. Nobody's established themselves, so to speak, as far as starters. Everybody's in the mix right now to play."

On replacing the leadership on the four graduated players: "Leadership is an interesting thing. It doesn't necessarily have to come from seniors. It might be a little bit by committee. You've gotta have talented guys; we've got some good players, but we're not as talented as a lot of teams in our league right now. You can make up for that with determination and a willing to get a group. That really comes from leadership."

On getting back to practice and moving on from the NCAA investigation: "I don't feel like there's all that much going on right now. I think we've got a great situation. We've got a new building, we've got a pretty good team. I'd like to stop talking about all that's going on. What's going on is that we're practicing. And I like that."

On lowered team expectations this season: "With a younger team, expectations can be hard to deal with. The thing that's happened to our teams the last three years, and not last year, is that we finished the season on such an up tick, usually, always in the NCAA Tournament. That really inflated people's expectations. We had some inconsistencies throughout those seasons."

On lowered individual expectations: "We've had some guys that have carried those around with them, whether it be a preseason All-American, a conference player of the year, or the NBA, I think that's weighed heavily on our guys' minds. Regardless of how unselfish you are, if you're thinking about those things, it's really hard to be as together as you need to be as a team. The exciting thing for me with this team is I feel like we have a chance to truly have a really together unit and a really unselfish team. We've been preaching team, team, team for six months now."

On the new "international" offense: "A lot of times, personnel dictates style, within certain parameters. We played a different style the last couple years because our strength was inside. (This season), our personnel lends itself to a more open style, more drive-and-kick, more on-ball screens, more hand-offs. I think that's the kind of team that we can have. The key to that is simple: it's sharing the ball. No matter what style you play, if you don't share the ball, you're not gonna be effective offensively. That's the most important thing to me."

On the point guard situation: "Well, we've got a couple. That's an improvement over the last three years, where we haven't had anybody or we've had somebody for a little bit and then not have him. That gives us an opportunity. We're relying on a freshman and a sophomore, so there's gonna be some growing pains there."

Guard Jimmy McKinney

On the new faces on the coaching staff: "They're great. They know the game well. They know what things we need and what things we don't need. We can see progress progressing right now. We're not waiting for the season to start."

On being one of the experienced, older players on the team: "I don't know about one of the older guys, but yeah. I got a lot of experience up under my belt. I just hope that experience will travel over to the court so I can really let guys know what I've been through and what to look for."

On playing off the ball this season: "This will probably be one of the happiest years I've had so far. If coach needs me at the point guard position, I'm a player. Whatever it takes to win ballgames. We're gonna have a lot of fun this year."

On the revamped point guard position: "Seeing (Jason) Horton and seeing Spencer (Laurie) coming along and getting comfortable and getting confidence…we got two great point guards that's gonna battle it out. I appreciate those guys; I thank them every day."

Guard Jason Conley

On lowered expectations this season: "I don't even care about all that expectation stuff. All we're trying to do right now is bond as a team and just get as far as we can now."

On an early (7 a.m.) practice compared to his early starts at VMI: "When they said seven o'clock, I heard a few guys go, ‘Woo, wow.' I was like, ‘It's not that bad.'"

On the "international style": "It's just the first day, so we haven't really gotten into all the details. We have two great point guards. Their ability to run the ball up the court fast is gonna be great for us."

On stepping into the leadership role: "I do consider myself a leader, but I'm not gonna put myself above anybody else. We're all on the same page and you want to be a real good team. That's what's important."

Mike's observations

Take these with a grain of salt because only the final 45 minutes of practice were open to the media. And to judge a player solely on how he looked on the first day of practice is foolish. Regardless, here are a few of my thoughts…

Most of the newcomers look like they might be able to contribute. The most pressure is on Jason Horton, as Snyder put the season on the freshman's shoulders. He looked like he could move the ball around the court well, although the team did not do any 5-on-5. Horton is wearing the Allen Iverson-style wrap on his right arm as a precaution against recurring blood clots. At 6-foot and 173 pounds, he is noticeably smaller than the rest of the team and might need to bulk up a bit before the season starts.

Spencer Laurie looks bigger than he did last season. He hit a couple of three pointers during one drill and looked more confident on the floor. Snyder suggested that the point guard competition would come down to these two players; if Laurie grabs the job, it could be a long season.

I had heard bad things about his conditioning, but Kalen Grimes looked to be in good shape. He is listed at 250 pounds and even looks a little lanky. He will eventually become a power beneath the basket, but it might take him a while. Kevin Young, listed at 263 pounds, looked much bigger than Grimes, but still showed good mobility.

Didn't get to see too much from Glen Dandridge, since the players didn't shoot much and word is his range is his best asset. He's another big body, much like Marshall Brown, who looks like the team's most athletic player. He is a doppelganger for Rickey Paulding, and, according to Conley, can make dunks that even Paulding cannot. He should be fun to watch.

Jeffrey Ferguson looks more aggressive beneath the basket than he did in his previous stint here. It would not surprise me if he starts at center in the season opener.

Marcus Watkins should be a good depth player. It never hurts to have a bunch of guards with decent ball-handling skills, which Missouri has lacked recently. Since he is a coach's son, you would think he could bring good fundamentals to the team, an asset that could get him playing time.

I don't think there is any doubt that Linas Kleiza is the team's best and most important player. He can do many things on the floor and will likely be used on the perimeter more in the "international" style. If he doesn't get reckless and take too many three pointers (he made 8-of-23 last season), Kleiza should flourish.

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