Missouri players keep mood light at NCAA Tournament

Friday, March 27, 2009 | 5:15 p.m. CDT; updated 11:26 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 27, 2009
Missouri freshman Kim English, left, takes on the role of reporter and interviews teammate J.T. Tiller, right, on Friday as the team prepares to face Connecticut in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament on Saturday in Glendale, Ariz. The interview was for, the Missouri athletic Web site, and English asked some serious and not-so-serious questions of his teammates.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A day after beating Memphis in the Sweet 16 and a day before playing Connecticut in the Elite Eight, the Missouri Tigers were relaxed Friday.

During the team's recent runs through the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, players have routinely cracked jokes and giggled under their breaths during press conferences.

Saturday's Elite Eight game

Missouri (31-6)
vs. Connecticut (30-4)
WHEN: 3:40 p.m.
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale Ariz.
TV: KRCG/Channel 13
RADIO: KFRU/1400, KBXR/102.3 FM

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Friday was no different.

Players and coaches spent as much time telling stories and cracking jokes as they did breaking down the matchup with Connecticut.

Senior forward DeMarre Carroll was asked about his history with Connecticut forward Stanley Robinson, whom Carroll played against in high school.

"We always beat him," Carroll said, drawing laughter from the room of reporters.

Missouri coach Mike Anderson told a story about when starting point guard guard Zaire Taylor first came to Missouri for a visit when he was considering transferring from Delaware.

Two things from the visit stuck out in Anderson's mind. One was that Taylor couldn't keep up with the other players because he was too "skinny" and "wimpy."

The other was Taylor's belt buckle. It was big and said "Cash Money."

"I told him, 'Boy, you get rid of that belt if you are coming back here,'" Anderson said with a laugh.

When asked about his hatred of losing, Anderson kept the mood light.

"I'm just used to winning," Anderson said. "I told our guys, 'If I'm playing marbles with my grandmother, I'm going to beat her.' That's just my attitude."

In the locker room before practice, players were grumbling that they wanted some food, which wouldn't be provided for them until after practice.

After being told there were crackers and popcorn in the media dining area, a few players sneaked out of the locker room and filled cardboard cups with the snacks.

Freshman forward Laurence Bowers drew "Mizzou" and "31-6" in big brown bubble letters on a dry erase board in the locker room. As he worked, freshman guard Miguel Paul hid behind the board, peaking out to rub his finger through the words whenever Bowers looked away.

"Don't mess with my masterpiece," Bowers said.

When he finished the design, Bowers double-checked his work with assistant coach Matt Zimmerman, asking if the team really was 31-6. A look of satisfaction spread across his face when Zimmerman confirmed that he had the correct record.

Meanwhile, freshman Kim English was hard at work. Not watching film or reading scouting reports, but interviewing his teammates.

English borrowed a microphone and a camera and went into the small rooms where teammates J.T. Tiller, DeMarre Carroll and Matt Lawrence were individually addressing the media.

Playing the part of a serious journalist, English asked his questions in a professional tone.

He asked Carroll about how shaking his long braided hair fires up his teammates. Once Carroll had answered, English was ready with a followup.

"Can you shake your dreads for me?"

Carroll gave in, shaking his head back and forth and letting out a mild yell and a laugh.

English was equally serious when he addressed Tiller.

"It's well-known that Kim English is the best looking player on the Missouri team. Where do you think you rank?" English asked, somehow maintaining his serious tone.

"I'm always No. 1," Tiller replied. Once Tiller answered, English lost it, laughing as a big smile spread across his face.

The silly tone surrounds the players away from the court as they enjoy the final games of their improbable season.

But don't think the silliness means the Tigers aren't taking the tournament seriously.

After beating Memphis on Thursday night, Missouri players refused to boast about their accomplishments. They were already focused on the Huskies.

"I don't think we are stopping there yet," Carroll said, when asked if beating Memphis was the biggest win in Missouri history. "We are going to enjoy it until midnight like Coach said and get ready for UConn because that could be our next biggest victory."

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Charles Ludeke March 27, 2009 | 8:44 p.m.

I like to hear that the guys are keeping a good attitude and sense of humor during the tournament. Definitely a great way to keep their minds off the pressure, and to not psyche themselves out. Sounds like these men have a good future within the next few days. I'm excited.

Great story, Mr. Powell. I enjoyed reading it.

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