COLUMBIA — When Missouri travels to Athens, Ga., to take on the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday in the Tigers' first game in an opponent's arena this season, the crowd will be slightly less hostile to Missouri junior guard J.T. Tiller than the rest of his teammates.
Tiller is from Marietta, Ga., which is about an hour and a half from the University of Georgia campus.
Missouri (11-2) at Georgia (9-4)
WHEN: 12 noon
WHERE: Stegeman Colliseum, Athen, Ga.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
TV: KOMU/Channel 8
Tiller's parents, Clarence and Faye Tiller, are coming to the game in a group of 20 family and friends, including J.T. Tillers' grandfather, Foy Tiller. Several of J.T. Tiller's friends from Wheeler High School will also be in attendance. During his junior and senior years in high school, J.T. Tiller's team compiled a 60-4 record and won the Class AAAAA state championship in 2005.
"You always want to play well in front of your family, especially since a lot of them don't get to see you play on a daily basis," J.T. Tiller said.
Clarence and Faye Tiller haven't seen their son play many times since he came to Missouri. The couple purchased ESPN Full Court so they can watch most of his games on TV.
Last season they traveled to watch Missouri play at Mississippi State, but the Tigers lost 87-75.
Missouri coach Mike Anderson said he hopes J.T. Tiller doesn't put too much pressure on himself to perform well in front of his family.
"It's one of two things: You try too hard or you try hard and a lot of good things take place for you," Anderson said. "The key is to stay focused on the task at hand and that is to go and, as they call it, try to steal one on the road."
Anderson has seen both fantastic and terrible performances in homecoming games.
Murray State guard Isaac Miles, who is from Kansas City and was briefly recruited by the Tigers, scored a game-high 18 points in his return to Missouri on Dec. 13. The Racers gave the Tigers a scare, closing to within four points late in the second half before falling 75-64.
Matt Lawrence, a St. Louis native, has struggled during his career playing in front of friends and family in the annual Braggin' Rights game against Illinois. Lawrence averaged just 4.25 points in four Braggin' Rights games, all Missouri losses.
Lawrence said he hopes J.T. Tiller will play better in front of a hometown crowd than he has.
"I haven't played too well in my homecoming games so I don't know if there's too much advice I can give him (J.T. Tiller)," Lawrence said. "As a junior, he's had enough experience to know that even in a homecoming game to still play his game and give out the effort that he usually gives."
J.T. Tiller's upbringing helped mold him into the player and person that he is today, so playing in front of his parents is a special treat.
Clarence Tiller served in the Navy for 20 years. While in the service, he and his military buddies volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club in Marietta, coaching basketball.
Clarence Tiller coached his son in youth leagues starting at age 6 and continuing up through junior high, winning several league championships along the way.
"He's had great discipline," Clarence Tiller said. "He's had discipline around him for 20 years."
That discipline is part of why J.T. Tiller has developed into a player that Lawrence calls the most consistent on the team. He's a consistent performer in the classroom as well, where is is majoring in international business.
"He does great in school," Clarence Tiller said. "He's a caring young man and very responsible."
When J.T. Tiller was first choosing a college, he didn't plan on going so far from his family. His first choice was to stay in-state at Georgia Tech. But after his AAU teammate point guard Javaris Crittenton committed to play there, the Yellow Jackets seemed to lose interest, and J.T. Tiller explored other options.
He then committed to play for Anderson at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. When Anderson took the coaching job at Missouri, J.T. Tiller came with him.
Despite having their son halfway across the country, Clarence and Faye Tiller are happy J.T. Tiller is a Tiger and playing for Anderson.
"Coach Mike is a great coach and he's a great guy," Clarence Tiller said.
Even if he isn't as thrilled with spending time in Columbia.
"It snows too much up there for me," Clarence Tiller said.
So does J.T. Tiller have anything special planned for his family and friends in Saturday's game?
"Yeah, win," J.T. Tiller said. "Pretty much all I want to do is win. I would take that over anything."