COLUMBIA — Zaire Taylor has been waiting for a long time.
Taylor has been practicing and scrimmaging and practicing some more with the Missouri men's basketball team since he transferred from Delaware before last season. After playing against his teammates every day, Taylor is eager to show what he can do against somebody else.
Taylor will have his chance at 7 p.m. Thursday in Missouri's first exhibition game against Division II Lincoln University at Mizzou Arena.
"It's been two years of practices, and a half a year just sitting out to be a student, all to play a game," Taylor said. "It's been too long. I miss it. I miss it. I miss the atmosphere."
The Tigers' pair of exhibition games don't count toward their record, but that doesn't matter to Taylor. He just wants to play, and win.
"I don't look at it as an exhibition game, I look at it as a game," Taylor said. "There's people coming. There's refs there. There's opponents. That's a game to me."
Taylor anticipates feeling a rush from the home crowd at Mizzou Arena. At Delaware, a capacity crowd is 5,000 fans, and Taylor said crowds were rarely that large. Last season, Missouri's average attendance was 8,060.
Taylor's exuberance might lead to some early game jitters, but coach Mike Anderson said it won't take long for Taylor and the Tigers' six other new players to settle down.
"Once they feel that first sweat or get knocked down or get pushed around, I think they'll be OK," Anderson said.
Taylor isn't the only Tiger excited about playing a game after suffering through two practices a day including intense running and conditioning for much of the past few weeks.
"We've been practicing for a while so it's pretty motivating to get out there and play somebody else," senior forward Leo Lyons said.
A win against Lincoln is essentially a foregone conclusion. The Tigers are 4-0 in exhibition contests since Mike Anderson became the team's coach, and Missouri's average margin of victory in those four games is 44.3 points.
If Missouri builds a big lead, don't expect Taylor to show any mercy to Lincoln.
"I was always told you kill an ant with a sledgehammer," Taylor said. "If we get up big against any team, that's just more incentive."
And it's more than just a win the Tigers are after. Anderson said the preseason games are a chance to evaluate how well the team is coming together. With so many new players pushing returners for minutes, Anderson hopes to use the exhibition schedule to begin to formulate a rotation.
"You want to give guys an opportunity to go out and play to see, some of the better moments in practice, see if they can bring it to the game," Anderson said.
Defense will be a focal point for the Tigers after Saturday's Black-and-Gold game, in which the two teams combined to shoot 55 percent from the field.
Although tonight's contest is the first official exhibition game for the Tigers, they played three games in Canada over Labor Day weekend, winning all three.
If his performance during those games in any indication, Taylor could be a major defensive contributor for the Tigers this season. He averaged 4.7 rebounds and six steals per game as the team's starting point guard during the trip.
After the Black-and-Gold game, in which Taylor had 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals, senior guard Matt Lawrence said he was impressed with the 6-foot-4 Taylor's toughness.
"He's going to help us with rebounding," Lawrence said. "We don't have the biggest big men down low, so having that taller point guard should help out a lot."