COLUMBIA — There has been a consistent buzz this offseason about the new faces on the Missouri men's basketball team.
Five of the 13 players on the team roster have never played in a Missouri jersey before. This spring's recruiting class features a top high school prospect (Phill Pressey) and two All-American junior college transfers (Ricardo Ratliffe and Matt Pressey). Tony Mitchell, another highly-touted high school recruit out of Dallas, is waiting to receive NCAA eligibility to add another name to the group.
- Ricardo Ratliffe, 6-foot-9 junior: Two-time NJCAA All-American who holds both the career record(1,653 points) and single-season record (855 points) at Central Florida Community College in Ocala, Fla.
- Matt Pressey, 6-foot-2 junior: NJCAA All-American his sophomore season at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, brother to freshman Phil Pressey.
- Phil Pressey 5-foot-10, freshman: Received Texas All-State honors his senior season at Dallas Episcopal where he averaged more than 20 points per game, brother to junior Matt Pressey.
- Ricky Kreklow, 6-foot-6 freshman: Mr. Show-Me Basketball 2010, two-time All-State honors, attended Rock Bridge High School in Columbia. Son of MU volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow.
- Kadeem Green, 6-foot-8 freshman: Played in high school at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C.* Suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury 15 games into his senior season, and has been participating in team workouts and will participate in practice.
- On the status of Tony Mitchell’s eligibility: Coach Mike Anderson remains optimistic. “Right now we’re still waiting, and hopeful that Tony will be able to join us, possibly at semester,” Anderson said.
Tuesday, coach Mike Anderson discussed new and potentially new Tigers, but made one point clear. In the center of the newness, a nucleus of proven players returns.
“The guys that are gonna be key are the guys that are here already, have been through the wars. They’re your core guys,” Anderson said.
Late last spring, before students returned home for the summer, Anderson called four players into his office. Justin Safford, the team’s only senior, and juniors Kim English, Laurence Bowers and Marcus Denmon listened to their coach’s message.
“He pretty much told us that we need to step it up,” Bowers said.
J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey, last season's senior leaders, had graduated, and Anderson wanted everyone in the room to know their roles had grown.
English recalls Anderson mentioning the promising recruiting class. The new players would be a boost. They were supposedly good, but nothing would be known for sure until they arrived. The experienced players would be counted on to lead the team.
“He (Anderson) always says it starts with leadership and ownership,” English said.
Anderson has good reason to put a heavy load on the eight shoulders he met with in the spring.
Safford has witnessed the team rise from a .500 record his freshmen year to a Big 12 Championship and two consecutive NCAA tournaments appearances. He is returning for his senior year after recovering from a season-ending ACL tear. The injury came in a home contest against Colorado, and it kept Safford from playing in Missouri’s final six games.
“The things he went through, even with the injuries last year,” Anderson said. He was playing awful good basketball, and then he goes down. Let’s see the mental makeup of Justin coming back this year.”
English, Bowers, and Denmon led the 2009-2010 team in scoring.
“It (this year’s junior class) was the first big class that we actually had a chance to go out and select, and recruit the kids we thought fit what we were doing,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the juniors benefited by easing into the system in a low-pressure environment, thanks to the help of former, older players.
Now, the roles are reversed, and “the core” is ready.
“If something goes wrong the blame is on you, but it’s a great responsibility to have,” Bowers said.
The Tigers begin official practice on Friday.