COLUMBIA — Kyle Whittaker walked gingerly off Norm Stewart Court and made a beeline for the water cooler.
“I think I should have done some running before I got here,” he said as he walked toward liquid refreshment.
It is not his first time feeling the physical demands of the uptempo Missouri style of play, but it will likely be his last.
Whittaker was one of about 12 Missouri students vying for a spot on the Missouri men's basketball team during walk-on tryouts Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena. Most of the students were underclassmen, but Whittaker, a senior, was trying out for his second and final time.
Originally from Springfield, Whittaker played his freshman year of college basketball for Central Methodist University in Fayette. He left the team after his first year, transferring to MU to pursue an education in mechanical engineering, a subject not offered at CMU. With concerns of eligibility issues, he waited until his junior year to try to walk on the team. Nothing came of the tryout, so he came back again this year.
The tryouts were open to any interested students looking for a chance to catch a coach’s attention. Assistant coach Matt Zimmerman put the players through a series of drills used by the team before letting them loose to play multiple rounds of full-court five-on-five scrimmages. Whittaker was not the only player feeling the pain of Missouri’s pace.
“It’s harder because we’re not just letting them come out and shoot jump shots,” Zimmerman said. “They’re doing stuff how we do things in practice.”
The exact number of participants was hard to calculate, as team managers and even former Tiger players J.T. Tiller and Michael Anderson Jr. joined in on the six-minute games. A handful of current Missouri players enjoyed the view from the sideline.
“You never know what’s hidden in those dorms or those classrooms,” junior guard Kim English said. “There could be a diamond in the rough.”
At the conclusion of the tryouts, Whittaker was not completely happy with his performance. He said he is not expecting to receive a second tryout.
“I wish I had a little more gas at the end,” he said. "I didn’t have the endurance to make it through the entire tryout. It’s hard to remember a year ago how hard it was. I didn’t prepare quite enough for it.”
But, when asked about one specific play, Whittaker’s face breaks into a smile.
“That’s gonna be probably my number one memory coming from the tryout,” he said.
The play came late in the series of scrimmages, Whittaker found himself guarding one of Missouri’s top players from last season. Tiller put the ball on the court, drove and lifted off, rising to shoot. But Whittaker recovered in enough time to get a full hand of leather, successfully swatting the ball away from the decorated former guard.
One blocked shot that Whittaker will keep with him.
“That will be something I can take with me to the grave,” he said.