COLUMBIA -- The new face of Missouri Tiger basketball met the last face of the program during elementary school.
That’s when Jordan Clarkson and Phil Pressey’s paths first crossed, as the two played in the same youth basketball league while Pressey’s father, Paul Pressey, was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs.
The two became friends, and that friendship grew through competing against each other during their high school days in Texas.
“He was older than me, so he was one of those dudes I looked up to a little bit,” Clarkson said.
After the 2011-12 season, Clarkson decided to transfer from the University of Tulsa. So, Pressey picked up the phone. Often.
Pressey played a major role in recruiting Clarkson to Missouri, calling his old friend five or six times a week, according to Clarkson.
“When it was time for me to transfer, he was like, ‘Hey, man, you might as well come and stop through and see how it is.'”
The prodding paid off as Clarkson pledged allegiance to the Tigers in May 2012.
After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer guidelines, Clarkson is ready to fill Pressey’s shoes.
“It’s definitely more exciting than usual, being able to play this year, knowing that I’ve been sitting out all last year, just working, getting ready for a time like this,” Clarkson said Tuesday afternoon, before the team’s second practice of the season.
According to coach Frank Haith, Clarkson will fill more than just Pressey’s slot as the starting point guard - he’s also assumed the leadership role vacated by Pressey.
“It’s not unique, to have a guy who sat out that you would consider as the leader of your team,” Haith said, referencing Rodney Hood, a former Mississippi State transfer whom Mike Krzyzewski named a captain at Duke for this season. Hood, like Clarkson, sat out last season.
Clarkson spent last year trying to emulate Pressey on the court, as part of his adjustment to the point guard position. Now, Clarkson is trying to model Pressey’s off-the-court demeanor, talking to him regularly about how to become a better leader.
Sophomore forward Stefan Jankovic thinks Clarkson is off to a good start.
“It just comes naturally to him,” Jankovic said. “He’s been a great leader so far. He’s been in the gym the most, which is always something you want to see from one of your better players, he’s been bringing guys along with him to practice and just being vocal and doing the right things.
“He lets his game do the talking. He’s not quiet, but he’ll let you know if you do something wrong.”
Clarkson didn’t do much wrong offensively at Tulsa; averaging 16.5 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting in his last season there. Teammates raved Tuesday about Clarkson's scoring touch and the dynamic it adds to the team.
He’s not too shabby on the other end of the court either, according to Haith.
“Jordan is our best defender,” Haith said. “He’s really good on the ball, he’s good off the ball, he has great instincts and he runs down loose balls. That’s a great quality to have from your point guard.”
Expectations for the baby-faced junior are high. Jankovic believes Clarkson is worth the hype.
“He came in a great player,” Jankovic said, “but I feel with the year off he had, he really took advantage of it, and he’s really going to surprise some people this year.”
Supervising editor is Erik Hall: sports@ColumbiaMissourian.com, 882-5729.