Earnest Ross looks back at his journey

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | 9:59 p.m. CST; updated 7:02 a.m. CST, Wednesday, March 5, 2014

COLUMBIA – A lot has changed about Earnest Ross in his three years at Missouri since his transfer from Auburn. 

In his two seasons on the court, his numbers have improved almost across the board. His minutes played are up; his field goal percentage is higher; he is grabbing more rebounds.

He's improved off the court, too.

Ross has learned how to be more mature. He's learned how to communicate better with others and how to make good choices. He says he's learned how to be a better person.

But from a cosmetic standpoint, the Earnest Ross you see Wednesday, when Missouri (20-9, 8-8 Southeastern Conference) hosts Texas A&M in the Tigers' last regular season home game of the season, will be an Earnest Ross of old. 

Say goodbye to the high-top fade haircut Ross has worn most of this season. He's gone back to the traditional buzz-cut. 

"I've been talking to Kimmie (English) and he's like, 'Just cut your hair, dude,'" Ross said Tuesday. "After Senior Night, it'll be a new beginning, so it'll be a new beginning for me."

That Ross is preparing to play his final regular-season home game at Missouri represents a milestone in coach Frank Haith's tenure. Ross was Haith's first recruit after leaving Miami in April 2011. 

"I want to live in the present and just have fun and play the game," Ross said. "Playing here is just a great feeling. I would love to play here more. But my time is up, so I'm going to just embrace the moment and live it up." 

And although Ross wasn't a freshman when he signed, he'll be the longest-tenured Tiger under Haith until he leaves. 

"Now you're building a program," Haith said. "Now you have the foundation to build a program. That's what guys like Earnest Ross, Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson have allowed us to do."

Ross sacrificed a full season, playing time and starter status to join Haith at Missouri. On the day before Ross' final home game, Haith praised him for taking the leap of faith. 

“It was a blessing for us because here was a young man who was the leading scorer and rebounder of his team at a high level, and we were able to get him to come on board with us," Haith said. "First year here he was the sixth man. He started at Auburn. All those things Earnest has done — you got to commend him. He will end up having a great finish to his career here at Mizzou, hopefully go to two postseasons.

"That was his reason for transferring. Guys have different reasons for transferring, and his was to play in the postseason.” 

A loss Wednesday would be catastrophic for Missouri's chances of reaching the type of postseason Haith and Ross hope to reach — the NCAA Tournament.

Texas A&M (17-12, 8-8) and Missouri are two of the four SEC teams tied with 8-8 conference records, but the Aggies barely even look like an NIT team with their 113th-ranked RPI and losses to conference cellar-dwellers Mississippi State and South Carolina. 

Haith is undecided on whether any players will address the fans on Wednesday night, like Laurence Bowers did on Senior Night a year ago, and English did the year before that.

Both those years Missouri was more or less a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament. With the Tigers' position more precarious this time around, the atmosphere at the game might be a little more serious. 

"We may open up for guys who want to do it," Haith said. "But our focus right now  — this is a big game for us. We want to treat it as if." 

Ross has put on his best serious face all year, and Wednesday he will have a small entourage of friends and family at Mizzou Arena there to see it, along with the new look.

Well, the old look, which also includes a longer, stringier than usual goatee. 

Like life after college, the makeover is sparking more questions than answers. 

"Maybe it's me growing up, getting older," Ross said with a laugh. "I'm getting older, here. I don't know."

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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