COLUMBIA — After introducing himself as a scorer, Marcus Denmon is earning his keep on the other end of the floor.
Last year, Denmon averaged 28.5 points per game as a senior at Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City to earn the DiRenna Award as the best player in Kansas City.
Who: Missouri (18-4, 5-2 Big 12) at Texas (15-5, 4-2)
When: 8:30 p.m.
Where: Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Radio: KBXR/102.3 FM, KFRU/1400 AM
This year, his first for Missouri, he scored a team-high 36 points in Missouri’s annual intrasquad scrimmage, the Black and Gold game. For an encore, the 6-foot3 freshman added another 15 in the regular season opener against Prairie View A&M. It was the most anyone had scored in a Missouri debut since 1993.
"(In) high school, I always came out with an offensive mind because my team needed me to," Denmon said. "But this team’s got so many weapons that everyone can score so I just try to contribute where I can."
Denmon scored nine points in Saturday's 89-72 win over Baylor, but it was his defensive contribution that kept him on the floor for a season-high 26 minutes. Denmon is looking forward to one of his biggest challenges of the season Wednesday night in Austin, Texas. He may get a chance to defend Texas’ A.J. Abrams, the Big 12’s all-time leader in three-point field goals.
“I think (Denmon) is growing,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “A lot of people look at the (scoring) averages, but I’m looking at what he does defensively. He’s in there touching passes. He’s fixing things on our defense. He’s getting rebounds.”
L.J. Goolsby, Denmon's former Amatuer Athletic Union coach, said Anderson's coaching style brings out some of Denmon's best attributes. After Denmon's former AAU teammate, Steve Moore, committed to Missouri in June 2007, it only took two months for the young guard to announce his intentions to follow him to Columbia.
“It was a big thing,” Denmon said. “I wanted to come to Missouri on my own, even if Steve would have chose to go somewhere else. But it’s always good to have someone that you’ve known for a while and is a teammate and a friend to play along with you.”
While growing up in Kansas City, Kan., Denmon played pickup basketball at places like the Clymer Community Center in the heart of the city. He got to face plenty of older and stronger players in a highly competitive atmosphere, which helped him develop a mental toughness that Moore said is "off the charts".
“Every time I take the court I look at it like I’m the best player on the floor,” Denmon said.
Goolsby said Denmon's quiet confidence helps him continue to move forward after poor shooting nights or mental mistakes, such as his intentional foul at Oklahoma State. But like many freshmen, he's still adjusting and trying to be consistent as he goes through the grind of Division I basketball. He's scored in double figures seven times this season — the most of the team's seven newcomers — but he's also been held to five points or less in 10 games.
"Of course in the summer they play against some of the better players throughout the country," Goolsby said. "But I don’t think it ever gets your mind ready."
Denmon has looked particularly unprepared away from Mizzou Arena, where he's never reached his season scoring average of 7.5 points per game. Although he said he's not affected by the crowds and isn't lacking in confidence, the freshman's field goal numbers have been horrendous away from home.
In eight games this season in road or neutral environments, he's made just two three-pointers in 23 attempts. But in four games at Mizzou Arena in conference play, he's been the team's best three-point shooter, connecting 11 out of 19 times. Anderson struggled to come up with an explanation for why the freshman seems so uncomfortable away from home.
Anderson is impressed with more than just Denmon's jump shot. "I think he’s doing some other things to help us," he said. "I think that’s what’s going to start happening for him on the road, and maybe that’ll give him more confidence as he’ll shoot the ball."
Denmon's toughness and desire to shut down his opponent have helped him quickly adjust to predicating his game on defense. J.T. Tiller, Missouri's defensive leader, has taken notice of Denmon's efforts.
"He’s a very prideful guy so he doesn’t want anybody to go out there and score on him," Tiller said. "So he just had to mature that defensive mindset, and I think that’s what he’s doing."
Even with his defensive contributions, Denmon knows that fans still expect him to be a prolific scorer some day. After the Tigers' loss at Nebraska to open Big 12 play, the freshman said he might be ready to come out of his shell a little more. He did just that, scoring 13 points against Colorado and then a season-high 16 in a win against Iowa State.
Goolsby said it's only a matter of time before Denmon has a true breakout game and scores 20 or more points.
"He’ll have one of those nights before the season’s over," Goolsby said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if he had one soon."