During the 2002-03 Missouri men’s basketball season, the Tigers learned it was difficult to win relying on a handful of core players.
MU suffered from its lack of depth at times, but the 2003-04 Tigers possess a supporting cast that might cause as many problems for opponents as the starters. The Tigers gave fans their first look at the team at Mizzou Madness, an entertaining light practice that began at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and signaled the start of the season.
It also ended a tumultuous offseason that centered on former guard Ricky Clemons. The NCAA is conducting an investigation into whether Clemons received gifts and extra tutoring help.
“I believe that we’ve got a deep team, a very deep team,” sophomore forward Kevin Young said. “Without a doubt, if the starting five isn’t playing well, the second five can come in there and bring the energy back.”
Young, who said he has refined all aspects of his game this offseason, is one of many options coach Quin Snyder can summon to complement the team’s four seniors. Junior Jason Conley, freshman Thomas Gardner, sophomore Jimmy McKinney and freshman Linas Kleiza are included in that group.
Snyder credited the team’s offseason competition and interactions as reasons for the depth.
“We have a real opportunity to have a deep team,” Snyder said. “Depth is only as good as your chemistry, and I think we’ve had great leadership from our seniors, embracing the younger guys.”
Snyder said senior forward Travon Bryant was one of the first to congratulate Kleiza on his decision to attend Missouri though they will compete for the same position.
This type of relationship is indicative of the competition at other positions. Senior guard Rickey Paulding said Conley, who is not eligible to play until after the fall semester, has presented an athletically challenging opposition for Paulding. Both players said they have benefited from it.
In the 10-minute scrimmage Saturday, Young and senior Arthur Johnson displayed the competition at the center position, banging evenly at both ends of the court.
“We’ve got guys at almost every position that are going to push people,” Snyder said. “Some guys don’t like that, but our guys don’t think that way. They’re feeling, ‘Come on because I love it. You want to work hard and try to take my job; If you do, I’m going to come back to you, and we’re going to be better as a team.’ We have a selfless group in that respect.”
As the younger players push the seniors in practice, the seniors respond with lessons of experience and the desire to take advantage of their final college season.
“This team has learned from past experiences, a couple years ago when we were ranked pretty high, that rankings don’t mean much,” senior forward Josh Kroenke said. “You always have a little sense of extra urgency whenever it’s your last chance to do anything. This is my last chance at Mizzou, and we’re going to try to go out with a bang.”
WHITE WINS SCRIMMAGE: Bryant and McKinney led the White to a 28-13 defeat of the Black in the uptempo scrimmage. McKinney scored 10 points and threw an alley-oop to Conley. Bryant added eight points. Paulding, the Black team’s high scorer, scored five.
Johnson, Gardner and freshman Spencer Laurie also played on the White team. Kleiza, junior Randy Pulley, Young, Kroenke and junior Brian Dailey rounded out the Black squad.
HIGH-FLYING PAULDING: Although the favorite to win the event’s unofficial dunk contest, Paulding faced significant challenges from Gardner and Conley.
Gardner, who advanced to the finals along with Paulding, set the standard when he hurtled a crouching Laurie in the middle of the lane and dunked with one hand. Paulding answered, though, with a similar dunk. Paulding went over his kneeling high school coach, Mark White, who tossed the ball to Paulding before the two-handed slam.
Conley finished the most creative dunk of the contest. After throwing the ball in the air from the 3-point line, he took off his jersey, took the ball off the bounce and slammed it with two hands.
DRAWING A CROWD: Perhaps it could be credited to the chill in the air Friday, conjuring thoughts of basketball season. Perhaps it was because of the anticipation and the expectations of the coming season. Or, as Snyder suggested, perhaps the attendance of 4,218 was a result of a newly discovered and unheralded team talent.
“Maybe it’s our kids’ marketing skills,” he said.
Snyder said the players passed out fliers to students at various campus locations Friday.
“I thought AJ stopped traffic a couple times holding his flier up, and that gives you an idea of where they are and how excited they are,” Snyder said.