Missouri men's basketball team ready for season opener

Thursday, November 8, 2012 | 9:47 p.m. CST
Missouri guard Phil Pressey passes the ball during the Tigers' first preseason basketball game against the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats on Oct. 29. Missouri won the game 91-58.

COLUMBIA — On Saturday before the season opener against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Keion Bell, a senior guard on the Missouri men's basketball team, will wake up early, practice some shots and watch some game film.

Then he will do something different from his teammates.

"Sleep," Bell said. "Sleep until I come here for the pregame, get something to eat and call my mom and say a quick prayer."

He says it helps his game.

Stefan Jankovic will phone his father, a former handball player, for some advice and quick conversation, just like he does before any other game.

Even though the players seem like they're treating the opener like any other game, Missouri coach Frank Haith said the team is excited to start games with actual consequences.

"You have stages throughout this process," Haith said. "You have excitement for the first practice and then that wears on you a little bit, then you build into the first exhibition game and that wears a little bit, and now you want the real game."

Haith was excited that the exhibition games showed he had a wealth of capable scorers from transfers to freshman.

"We know that we have a number of guys who could score the ball," Haith said. "In the first game you have Earnest (Ross) and Keion go get 20-plus points and have a freshman (Jankovic) go get 20 points in the next."

The Tigers have much to be excited about heading into season play, especially Phil Pressey. The Los Angeles Athletic Club announced Thursday afternoon that the junior guard is included on the preseason top 50 watch list for the Wooden Award, one of the highest awards in college basketball. Last month, Pressey was named as an SEC Preseason Player of the Year.

Despite blowing out their two exhibition opponents, the Tigers still have some minor consistency issues to work out. Turnovers were an issue for Missouri with center Alex Oriakhi still trying to get a feel for Pressey's lobs to him in the post.

"They gotta get used to playing with each other some more," Haith said chuckling. "I think there were a couple of passes that Alex wasn't ready for."

Haith said the one thing he was working on was the team's consistency. He hopes he will get some of that with the return of Bell to the lineup Saturday. Bell sat out the Tigers' exhibition game Sunday with symptoms of pneumonia.

For the players, the season opener will be another game.

Oriakhi will do his usual routine of a prayer.

"I just pray," he said. "I'll call my father on the phone, and then I'll say a quick prayer for the Lord and for him to bless me and my teammates and most of all just get a win."

And Missouri basketball will start a promising season.

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