COLUMBIA — Missouri interim head coach Tim Fuller issued Ryan Rosburg a challenge at halftime of Missouri’s game against Southern Illinois last week.
“I told him ‘Ryan, I know you’re better than what you gave us in the first half, I’ve seen you do it,'” Fuller said. “So I made him stand up and look at his teammates. I said ‘They need you’.”
Who: Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs
When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Mizzou Arena
Listen: Tiger Radio Network
Famous alumnus: Dr. Linda Combs, Controller of the Office of Management and Budget
Last NCAA Tournament appearance: The Runnin' Bulldogs have never qualified
The Tigers led by just one and were being out-rebounded by the Salukis. Rosburg had spent most of the first half relegated to the bench after being outworked around the basket.
“He told me to stand up in front of everyone and he went around to Earnest (Ross), Jordan (Clarkson) and Jabari (Brown) and was like ‘What do we need Ryan to do to help us win?’ and they would say rebound, play hard, be physical, finish; stuff that I needed to do better,” Rosburg said.
The pep talk sparked a change in the second-year center. In just his second career start, Rosburg responded to his teammates with a physical second-half performance and finished with nine rebounds.
“I knew that there was more in me when they said that," Rosburg said. "I mean, they’re my teammates and I’d do anything for them. Just hearing from them, it was like ‘Alright, this is what they need out of me,' this is what I got to do.”
Meet the improved Ryan Rosburg; a player equipped with the confidence necessary to step up his play when things aren't going his way.
Fuller doesn’t need Rosburg to score 20 points and snag 10 rebounds each night. The hope is that Keanau Post and Rosburg can combine for those totals. And with the exception of the first half against Southern Illinois, Rosburg has been the assertive, serviceable low-block presence the coaching staff is seeking. The contributions this year have been a far cry from the “humbling experience” of his freshman season.
Humbling because his father, Paul, no longer had to keep Ryan's birth certificate in the glove box of his car in case an opposing coach challenged his son's age. Humbling because Rosburg’s record-setting career at Marquette High School in Chesterfield didn't translate into immediate success. And humbling because his new reality was a daily practice match-up against Alex Oriakhi, who physically dominated the younger, smaller, slower and weaker Rosburg.
Rule No. 1 in practice last season was no substitutions. Fuller didn’t let anyone else matchup with Oriakhi in practice.
“He would just bully me,” Rosburg said of Oriakhi.
Welcome to college, kid.
Coach Frank Haith had given Fuller reign over coaching the team's post players. With Oriakhi being a senior, Fuller recognized the immediate need to groom a replacement.
“He (Fuller) was really hard on me in particular,” Rosburg said. “I think he wanted me to get Alex ready for games so that was part of it, but I think the main part was him getting me ready for the next three years, when Alex wouldn’t be around and we didn’t know who else was going to be in the front court.”
At a recent team meeting, Fuller suggested that Rosburg probably didn’t like him much last year because of the way Fuller treated him in practice.
“There were times I was like, ‘He’s kind of crazy’, but I knew he always had my best interest at heart and everything he was doing was for a reason,” Rosburg said of Fuller. “He knew that last year might not have been my year to play, but it’s always going to help for the next couple of years.”
The regular drubbings in practice from Oriakhi gave Rosburg an extra motivation to improve in the off-season so that he could succeed at the college level.
He began lifting weights on off days with Todor Pandov, Director of Basketball Athletic Performance. When Missouri-bound friends from high school came to Columbia for freshman orientation, Rosburg would ask them to participate in rebounding shoot-around sessions at Mizzou Arena, sometimes until 1 or 2 a.m. If high school friends weren’t around, team managers were substituted.
“We have the list of the managers’ numbers, they probably got annoyed of me calling,” Rosburg said. “I was calling all the time, trying to get guys to come rebound for me. Basically, any time I was bored or felt like it, which was a lot.”
Thus far, it’s paid off.
“He’s attacked it openly like ‘Hey, I’m going to kill this’ and I think that’s how you develop confidence – with hard work,” Pandov said. “You can’t cheat your way into something and be confident about it, you have to experience some hard work to become confident and he’s done it.”
The strides taken by Rosburg have been noticeable.
“I think (last year) he was playing not to screw up, he didn’t want to screw up,” Paul Rosburg said. “This year, he’s got a year under his belt so he knows the guys better, he talks to them now and he’s with them now and just looks more comfortable out there.
“He looks like he did in high school.”
His confidence level is back to where it used to be, too.
“I think I always had it in me, but I never really got a chance to get rolling last year. I would just play sparingly, a couple minutes at a time,” Rosburg said. “Now that I’m on the floor for longer periods of time, it’s easier to get in the flow of the game and get going. I’ve been doing well in practice, and I know what I’m capable of, I just need to keep translating it to games. I’m definitely confident now.”