COLUMBIA — Friday at 5:01 p.m. at Mizzou Arena not only marked the official start of basketball practice for the MU men’s basketball team, but also a chance to find its identity.
With the loss of seniors DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence, the basketball team not only lost nearly half of its 81 points a game, but who it was.
Last year’s team was known for Carroll’s grit and toughness that he brought game in and game out and Lyons' smooth jumper and offensive game. This year however, the team doesn’t have a premier offensive weapon.
The Tigers have 10 returning players this year, and six who have played more than 10 minutes a game. However, none of them averaged double digit points a game. Still, coach Mike Anderson is not worried about the lack of identity.
“I think guys have different roles now, so we will see different guys step up. I think our guard play is in a position this year to score more, and hopefully our forwards can score more,” Anderson said. “I think it’s an opportunity for other guys and this is a place where they can cash in those opportunities.”
Senior guard Zaire Taylor isn’t worried either. Taylor looked to the movie trilogy "The Matrix" as the answer.
“You look at those three they are almost like Morpheus, and us new three (Taylor, J.T. Tiller and Keith Ramsey) would be Neo.” Taylor said. “And it’s almost how he has (leadership) in him, but he’s being trained the whole time to become leaders and you kind of start to feel like you have some leadership in you.”
Taylor said that that experience gained last year will help the team adjust to life on offense without Carroll and Lyons to carry the load. However, Anderson isn't worried about the lack of offense.
“I think we are going to be a team that certain nights different guys will step up. I think we have so many guys capable of scoring,” Anderson said. “I don’t worry about the offense, I think the key for our basketball team is defense.“
Anderson said that the team expects to see bigger roles from its returning upper classmen like forward Justin Safford, Taylor and Tiller. Already they’ve taken a more vocal role in practice routinely yelling at teammates to stand up and get their hands off their knees.
Safford said he is enjoying his new role as a veteran on the team and hopes to lead by example. In practice Safford tried out his new leadership role by helping freshmen Tyler Stone and John Underwood figure out where to go during their drills. Safford would encourage them by telling them to keep their heads up, and follow him in line during the three man weave drill.
“It’s weird. It feels like yesterday I was just coming in here,” Safford said. “I think it’s good being a vet and showing these younger guys how to take care of business,” Safford said.
Anderson said that the team will find its identity in due time. He pointed to last year’s team, which he said took on a completely new identity by the second half of the season, as evidence that his players have time to grow and mature. Taylor agreed and said that he thinks that once the team plays its first game, the players will know exactly who they are.
“This team’s identity has remained to be seen. We haven’t played a game yet so I don’t know,” Taylor said. “There’s going to be a time where there will be less talk and more playing, and then we are going to see what happens. It’s going to be time to show and prove.”