COLUMBIA — Every day at practice the Missouri women's basketball team has an opponent to face.
It's a team of young men — all former high school basketball players — who are now students at MU. It's called the scout team.
The scout team practices in gray cut-off T-shirts, while the women's team wear gold practice shirts.
During parts of practice, the scout team just hangs out. They shoot around on the side hoops or stand and talk to each other.
But during other parts of practice, such as the one-on-one drill, the scout team is very involved. In the one-on-one drill, players receive a pass then try to score with a scout team player covering them.
The scout team players aren't just there to take up space and make it a little bit harder to score. They really try to take the ball away and stop the women from scoring.
"It takes away the wear and tear on our players," said assistant coach Randy Norton, who's also in charge of the scout team. "It allows them to go against someone who's bigger, faster, stronger to help prepare them for the games."
Later on in practice, the team scrimmages against the scout team. Five or six members of the scout team come to each practice each day, often joined by former Missouri women's basketball standout RaeShara Brown, who graduated last year. The scrimmages usually get competitive, Norton said.
"We don't get as many breaks as they do," junior scout-team player Shane Andriano said. The scout team doesn't have as many players to substitute in and out during scrimmages as the women's team does.
Andriano and junior Ethan Hannah are two members of the scout team who have been with the team since Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton and her staff arrived last season.
"I just loved playing basketball in high school, figured I might as well do it here," Hannah said. "Obviously, I'm not going to play on the men's team."
Andriano enjoys playing in the controlled environment of practices more than in pick-up games at the MU Rec Center.
"And it's cool playing in the arena every day," Hannah added. "It keeps you in shape."
What is also cool is that the players on the scout team are treated just like the players on the team.
When Pingeton walked into the practice gym on Monday, the scout team was sitting in seats against a wall. She greeted her players with a pat on the arm, then walked down the line shaking hands with each scout team player.
"How you doing?" she asked one.
"Stay out of trouble this weekend?" she asked another.
And she gets on them just like she gets on her players.
"The other day Coach P didn't feel like the scout guys were going hard enough," Norton said. "She called them up and said 'We need more intensity out of you.'"
The scout team is also held to the same standards as the players when they are off the court.
"They've got the same standards as our players as far as academics," Norton said. "We look for kids that are high character and understand that when they come to the gym, to check their egos at the door. They need to understand that they're there to help our girls get better."
Each of the past two seasons, the coaching staff held an open tryout before the season to select the scout team. The coaches watched the players play and visited with each one to make sure he would be a good fit.
Pingeton's staff, which includes Norton, used a scout team during seven years at Illinois State and decided to continue using one at Missouri. They look for players who have played organized basketball and understand the game. They also look for players of different sizes and skill sets to match up with their own players.
"It's kind of like forming a team that compares to what we go against in the Big 12, soon to be the SEC," Norton said.
The scout team not only helps the team get better during practice, but also cheers them on during games. Andriano and Hannah said they try to make it out to every home game.
Missouri plays its first regular season home game Nov. 20. The Tigers open regular season play Friday at Texas-San Antonio and Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.