Kim English says a good NCAA Tournament for Tigers would replace a season of struggles

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | 11:31 p.m. CDT; updated 7:28 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 9, 2011
Missouri coach Mike Anderson says sometimes Tigers junior guard Kim English overanalyzes. His teammates say the same.

He has been hearing them all season.

During press conferences, after games and away from the court altogether, Kim English has heard the questions about his junior season.

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“It’s personally not the season I wanted,” English said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

After leading the Missouri men’s basketball team in scoring last season, English has struggled this year. The expectation remained that at some point a certain game would come, and English’s reliable production would return. But now the season is nearly over. Missouri players will tell you the tournament is a brand new season. For English, that thought might hold the most meaning.

As a sophomore, English averaged 14 points per game for Missouri. And as this season approached, so did higher expectations. The guard graced the cover of the Big 12 Conference men’s basketball media guide along with other conference stars like Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen and Kansas forward Marcus Morris. Before September started, English was named as a preseason candidate for both the John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith Award.

But as Missouri’s up-and-down season has gone, so has English’s year.

This season he blocked more shots and has nearly doubled his number of assists. But attention seems to stick on his scoring. Instead of increasing, English’s points have fallen to 10 per game.

Maybe the difference would not be as noticeable in another player. It is no secret that English is one of the most recognizable faces on the team. Attention surrounds one shrouded in success, and the attention stays when success is scarce. English has now seen both sides.

A scroll through the online comments section of newspapers and blogs that cover the team will reveal questions, opinions and criticisms of the man who wears No. 24 for the Tigers.

“The scrutiny is fine,” English said. “It comes with the territory. It doesn’t bother me at all.”

English says nothing he hears is harder than what he tells himself. He is his harshest critic.

“If I played poorly and we lose, I take that on myself,” English said. “That’s kind of tough to swallow.”

Missouri coach Mike Anderson says English overanalyzes. His teammates say the same.

Earlier this season, English said he talked to his father, his friends and even former coaches about things he should do differently. He said he second-guessed himself for the first time.

Yet his teammates continue to believe in him, and his coach seems to as well.

At times English has said it himself: “It’s coming.”

And there have been times when flashes of it have been there. Missouri was bounced from the Big 12 Conference Tournament after two games, but English scored 15 points and then 12 in those two games.

“I played freer,” English said. “That’s all I ask.”

Consistency, though, has been hard to come by. Swished shots are followed by shots that fall short. When his shots are off, he can tend to force more. The corner-turning breakout performance never came, and now only the tournament remains.

And one more time, on the night before Missouri plays Cincinnati in its first game of the NCAA Tournament, English again heard questions about his struggles, his doubts and his disappointment.

“That doesn’t matter right now,” he said.

And he’s right. Part of the magic of the tournament is the power to wipe away, to cleanse.

“A good tournament will right the ship for the season,” English said.

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Karen Mitchell March 17, 2011 | 11:57 a.m.

Very nice image, Christie.

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