COLUMBIA – Getting Kim English to leave the gym is like getting a 5-year-old to leave the play place at a fast-food restaurant.
You better have a convincing bribe to yank that child out of the wonderland of ball pits and weaving tunnels. And if you don’t want English to throw a fit, you ought to have a darn good reason for asking him to step off the basketball court, his personal paradise.
A sophomore guard on the Missouri men’s basketball team, English developed into one of the Tigers’ most intriguing personalities last season after word got out that English sometimes slept in the locker room at Mizzou Arena in order to get in more practice shots.
Until recently, English also made the arena his home on game days well before the rest of his teammates arrived. He stayed at the arena during the hours between the team’s morning shootaround and the game.
“I used to be on the court two hours early before the game, 45 minutes before we’re supposed to be here,” English said. “Then I would go do like 100 shots with one of the managers, a lot of repetition, a lot of the stuff I thought I would be doing during the game. But, I could feel my legs getting tired when the game would first start. It would work sometimes, and it wouldn’t (others). I wasn’t consistent.”
English’s shooting had been particularly poor since the start of Big 12 Conference play. Struggling through a lengthening slump, English shot 2-for-9 against Nebraska while airballing one shot and clanking another off the side of the backboard, earning himself a seat on the bench for almost the entire second half.
He then shot 3-for-13 in Missouri’s blowout loss at Kansas.
So, English changed his routine. He abandoned the pregame custom he has used since the Black and Gold game his freshman year.
Instead of holing himself up inside Mizzou Arena for hours and hours before the Tigers’ game against Oklahoma State on Jan. 30, English made a late-night trip to the arena the night before the game with assistant coach T.J. Cleveland. After making about 100-150 shots, English called it a night and headed to the team hotel.
“He comes in before curfew and gets a couple of shots up, doesn’t wear himself out. Just gets a few shots up and sees the ball go in before he goes to bed, gets to dream about it going in,” Cleveland said, smiling.
For his new night-before routine, English and Cleveland get to the arena at about 9:30 p.m. and stay until 10:45 p.m. Cleveland said he got the idea from Jannero Pargo, an NBA player with the Chicago Bulls who teamed with Cleveland at Arkansas.
“It’s just one of those things as a former player and now as a coach, you kind of see a guy who just needs to change things up, especially a shooter,” Cleveland said. “Anything to get him going.”
It worked. English made four 3-pointers and scored 20 after trying Pargo’s routine before the Oklahoma State game. He scored 15 the next game and had 21 points on Saturday against Colorado.
“He’s a guy who’s so eager to play all the time and amped up before games, I just told him to kind of relax a little bit,” Cleveland said. “…Coach (Mike) Anderson always kind of tells Kimmie to take some time off because he’s a workaholic.”
Now, English leaves the arena after shootarounds on game day mornings to clear his mind. Kind of.
“I just go home and watch some basketball,” he said. “Just get my mind off of our game and get back up here like hour-and-a-half before the game starts and then take my time getting out there.
“Other than pregame shooting, I don’t touch the ball until about an hour before the game. I just get a lot of easy shots up.”
Although English said he’ll stand by it, Cleveland knows that with shooters like English, a routine is as good as the results it produces.
“As long as it keeps working for him,” Cleveland said. “Whatever makes him comfortable.”