COLUMBIA - The court at Mizzou Arena had a new line made of white tape during practice this week, just beyond the normal three-point arc.
The makeshift 3-point line, 20 feet, six inches from the basket is the most visible way to tell the Missouri men's basketball team is preparing for a trip north over Labor Day Weekend. The young Tigers are scheduled to play three games in just over 60 hours in Ontario, Canada against two All-Star teams and Canada's defending national collegiate champions.
"This is a vacation," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "We've got guys that have never been out of the country before. I think it's going to be a good experience for them, they get a chance to spend some time and bond with each other."
Along with the basketball, the players and coaches will be doing some sightseeing, including the Maid of the Mist Tour at Niagara Falls. Senior forward Leo Lyons is one of the Tigers who has never been to Canada, and he said the team is looking forward to a break from their grueling workouts this week.
"We'd much rather play a game than practice," Lyons said. "Our practice is pretty hard and we practice twice a day, so it's like a game (physically)."
Trips abroad are common for NCAA teams looking to get in some extra games and practices before the season officially starts. Anderson said he has taken past teams across the Atlantic to England or Italy, but he prefers the Canadian trip because it allows him to take all 13 of his players.
Anderson said the trip should be especially beneficial for this year's squad, which has five freshman and a sixth newcomer in Zaire Taylor, a transfer from the University of Delaware. After nearly a week of practice, the youngsters still have a lot of learning to do, but Anderson hopes getting to play earlier than usual will help them be better prepared for the first official practice on Oct. 17.
"They're catching on fast," Lyons said. "It's not a system you can just jump into."
The Tigers will start the weekend Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against the Ontario All-Stars, followed by a second game in St. Catharines against Brock University at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Monday morning, Anderson and his players will have to get up early for a game against the South Ontario All-Stars in Welland, Ontario. Tipoff time is set for 9 a.m., allowing the Tigers to get back Monday night. With the games so close together, it could be an endurance test.
"That means we've got to play a lot of players," Anderson said, "so everybody'll play, a lot of different combinations and we'll see what the makeup of our guys are."
Along with the three-point line, the Tigers will have to adapt to some other rule changes, including a 24-second shot clock and the ability to grab the ball as soon as it touches the rim. Lyons said these two changes should play right to the team's strengths.
"We've got a lot of long, athletic guys," Lyons said, "so as far as the rebounding on the rim, we're going to be all over that, and we play fast anyways."
After their weekend getaway, the Tigers won't play again until their first exhibition game Nov. 6 against Lincoln (Mo.). The regular season schedule, which was released Thursday, starts at Mizzou Arena Nov. 15, when the Tigers take on Prairie View A&M.
The team will take one more international trip in November when it goes to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a three-game tournament. For now, though, Anderson said his team is looking forward to a full weekend with our neighbors to the north.
"They get a chance to play basketball, the game they love," Anderson said, "so I'm sure they're looking forward to it."