COLUMBIA — Beneath the concrete supporting the seats of Mizzou Arena is a media room. This room is only about 20 steps from the tunnel where the Missouri players emerge each game.
This is the room where interviews are conducted after games have been completed. On Feb. 2, after MU had upset Kansas State, a leader presented himself to the public in this room.
Forward DeMarre Carroll walked into this room with guards J.T. Tiller and Keon Lawrence following close behind. All were set to be interviewed. Carroll placed himself at the forefront, behind the podium and lone microphone. Tiller and Lawrence flanked him on either side, waiting for questions directed at them.
When a question was asked that wasn’t directed at a specific player, Carroll would look down at the podium and formulate an answer. If it was something that didn’t need his input, he would take a step back and allow either Lawrence or Tiller speak. If there was a silence that was a bit too long, as though Tiller or Lawrence didn’t have an answer, Carroll would step back up to the podium and deliever a response.
When a question was directed at Carroll, he would answer in terms of “we,” not “I.”
While the interviews were going on, Tiller and Lawrence would glance at Carroll, studying what he was doing. If a reporter didn’t say their name, Tiller and Lawrence seemed to be fine with letting Carroll carry the load. Needless to say, Carroll answered the bulk of reporters questions on that afternoon.
During the course of the season it has been obvious Carroll is important to the Tigers, but since the suspension of five players last week, it has looked more and more like the Tigers are now Carroll’s team.
Tiller said he thinks Carroll has emerged as a leader for the Tigers because he was able to observe the workings of the team from the sidelines last season, when Carroll had to sit out because he transferred from Vanderbilt.
“He deserves that leadership role because he sets a lot of goals and attains them,” Tiller said. “We just follow his lead.”
The Tigers have five seniors on their roster. In the beginning of the season, it made sense that Carroll, a junior, was not at the forefront of things.
“I didn’t want to jump into the leadership role because you already had guys on the team that had been through the wars, been through the struggles, so you just jump on the boat and go for the ride,” Carroll said. “But a lot of things have happened, so I think now I’ve got no choice but to become one of the leaders and lead by example. So, I wasn’t really trying to play this role, but all of a sudden it’s do or die time in our season and I think I have to step up and become a leader.”
Lawrence agrees with Carroll’s analysis.
“He knows it’s time for him. He doesn’t have to start when he’s a senior, he can start now,” Lawrence said. “We need some leadership right now, so why not step up? And he’s been doing a good job with it.”
In October, Carroll was named the Big 12 Conference’s preseason Newcomer of the Year by the league’s coaches.
While the recognition was a nod to his talent, Carroll said it was something that was given to him for his play at Vanderbilt, where he played his first two collegiate seasons before transferring to Missouri. Carroll said that he didn’t care much about the award, he just wanted to play his hardest to help the Tigers win
Before the start of the season, people were wondering what Carroll could really do on the court. Not many had seen him play when he was at Vanderbilt, so there were some questions as to whether or not he could live up to the hype that was surrounding him.
Carroll started the season by displaying all his talents in a 23 point and eight rebound performance against Central Michigan. Those 23 points are still his highest total this year, but Carroll has hardly fallen off from his MU debut.
“He’s a monster on the court,” Tiller said. “I just love going to battle with him because you know that he’s going to get the rebounds, he’s going to be tough, he’s going to fight whoever their (the other team) big man is and he’s a leader on the floor.”
Carroll is second to guard Stefhon Hannah in scoring for the Tigers, but with Hannah unable to play because of a broken jaw, Carroll is a player the team will have to lean on a bit more.
Much like fans and media, Carroll’s teammates had expectations of what he could bring to the floor this season, and he hasn’t disappointed them.
“He’s gone past what I expected,” Tiller said. “I didn’t think he was going to average the points and get as many rebounds and battle like he did. He’s exceeded my expectations.”
Lawrence also said that Carroll has exceeded his expectations. Lawrence added that he has really been impressed with Carroll’s sustained aggressiveness this season.
“He’s a good player. Good defensively, good offensively. He’s tough, he rebounds,” Lawrence said. “He ain’t just going to get in the game and give you nothing. He’s going to fight with you. It’s good to have a guy that’s going to go to war with you.”
What his teammates really love about Carroll is his willingness to do the so-called dirty work of basketball, which is rebounding and hustling after loose balls.
“I love rebounding,” Carroll said. “If I want to pursue it and make some big money once I leave here, I’m going to have to be a scrappy player. I’m going to have to be a rebounder. I’m going to have to be a guy like what they call me, the junk yard dog. There’s a lot of guys with way more talent and way more jumping ability and all that so, I got to do the little things. And I think that’s going to pay off in the long run.”
Carroll is a junior in eligibility, but because he sat out a year when he transferred, he has attended four years of college. He will be graduating in May. So when next season starts, he will be able to place more emphasis on his game.
“It’s amazing that you can sit out and all of a sudden have another year to come back and focus on basketball,” Carroll said. “That’s my dream. All I want to do is play basketball, and hopefully I’ll be able to play basketball after this. It’s just one of those things where I can work on my game more because I don’t really have to focus on school. That’s the luxury of it.”
Sophomores Tiller and Lawrence both said they are looking forward to having another year with Carroll.
“That gets me excited,” Tiller said of thoughts of next season. “Because we know we get one more year where we have a beast on the boards, and a leader to lead us into battle.”