COLUMBIA — Practice hasn't even started for the Missouri men’s basketball team, and already the team has dealt with one of its most challenging tasks: the children of Columbia.
On Saturday, the entire team was on hand for its third-annual youth clinic at Douglass Park. About 30 young basketball players ages 6 to 15 showed up to take part.
One of the main challenges for the Tigers at the clinic was dealing with the variety of ages. The players were split into three age groups, and the Missouri players had to find the appropriate level of competition for each one.
“Our guys recognize that (challenge), and they were out here playing one-on-one with some of the more talented kids,” Missouri head coach Mike Anderson said. “More than anything though, our guys want to make it fun for these kids, and that’s what you’re seeing, a lot of smiles. When they’re home and watching these guys on TV, they can say ‘Oh man, I scored on him.’ It might be a life memory for these kids.”
Before the clinic started, Tigers junior guard Kim English played a game of 21 against several Rock Bridge High School players, including Bruins sophomore Manuale Watkins, the son of Missouri associate head coach Melvin Watkins. When English had the ball, all three Rock Bridge players fouled and wrapped him up in an attempt to stop him from scoring.
“It was something to do, something fun,” English said. “And those kids are older, so I can bump them and hit them a little harder than I can with these younger kids, so I can show them what it will be like when they do get to the next level because I feel like all three of those kids will be Division I players one day.”
Anderson said that, in addition to giving back to the community, the youth clinic also allows him to watch his players teach the skills that he is working on with them, and see how well they have learned what he has taught them.
“I’m kind of watching to see what they’ve learned, and how they’re applying what we’re teaching them to see if they understand it,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of neat, and these guys, much to my satisfaction, have grasped the things we’ve taught them.”
Missouri junior forward Laurence Bowers and sophomore guard Michael Dixon, Jr. played games of "lightning" against the young players, while English taught a group shooting fundamentals and screens. Meanwhile, junior guard Marcus Denmon and junior center Steve Moore worked on dribbling techniques. After the children rotated through all of the stations, they got a chance to play a few minutes of five-on-five against the Missouri players.
Anderson said the free clinic gives youth of Columbia who might not otherwise get a chance to see the team play at Mizzou Arena a chance to know the players.
“We are part of this community too, so it’s a way of giving back, interacting with the kids and coming onto their turf,” Anderson said.