Depth little concern for Missouri

Friday, November 7, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

After last month’s Black and Gold Scrimmage, Missouri basketball coach Quin Snyder was asked whether this season’s squad was the most talented in his four years at Missouri.

Two players from the Snyder era have advanced to the NBA, and four others are playing professionally overseas. Despite that, he didn’t exactly say no and mentioned that a former Tiger, now part of his coaching staff, might disagree.

“That’s interesting,” he said. “(Student assistant Brian) Grawer might take issue with that, with the team with Clarence Gilbert and Kareem Rush going out there.”

Grawer played with Gilbert and Rush from 1999-01.

Snyder said he was impressed with the talent he can put on the court.

“We have guys that can knock the shot down,” he said. “But they’re not just looking to jack it, either. We’re still getting to know each other, because we have a lot of new pieces. It will take time for those guys to get comfortable.”

That begs the question: Could this team have too much talent?

With seniors Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding hoping to peak this season, Snyder’s latest recruiting class provides depth that was sorely lacking the past few years. Paulding played 35 minutes per game last season, and Johnson averaged 33. Will they need to be on the court so much this year? How will the seniors react to the competition?

“Depth is only as good as your chemistry,” Snyder said. “Everybody is benefiting from the competition.”

Senior guard Josh Kroenke, who has played for all four of Snyder’s teams, agreed.

“It’s very competitive,” he said. “It’s the most competitive it has been since I’ve been here, hands down.”

That competition is ongoing at all positions, but the top struggles come at guard. Junior college transfer Randy Pulley and sophomore Jimmy McKinney will compete for point guard duties, and Kroenke and Thomas Gardner will play at shooting guard. Paulding is solidified as the small forward, but, when transfer Jason Conley becomes eligible Dec. 21, he could back up Paulding and earn minutes at shooting guard as well.

Snyder said he would wait to see how his players perform in the exhibition games before settling on starters.

“We have the challenge of integrating a number of new guys that can contribute with a bunch of guys that have had pretty good careers here,” he said. “Having a longer preseason this year helps us with that.”

Conley has repeatedly said that he relishes matching up against Paulding in practice. He said he respects Paulding’s experience and looks forward to every matchup with him in practice.

“Everybody knows he’s a great player,” Conley said. “If I keep playing him defensively, I’ll get better and learn a bunch of things from him. In order to get where I want to go, I have to keep playing guys like him.”

For his part, Paulding said he felt it was necessary for the seniors to help prepare the newcomers for the rigors of Big 12 Conference basketball.

“I think it’s our duty to help them out a little bit, tell them not to worry about other stuff and just focus on basketball,” Paulding said.

As for conflict between the incumbents and the freshmen, don’t expect much. Before the beginning of practice, Johnson had an interesting way of introducing Conley to Missouri basketball.

Conley said: “AJ just came up to me and said, ‘I want to give you a kiss because this is the first time you’re a real Tiger.’”

CHANGES: The men’s and women’s exhibition games will have experimental rules.

The 3-point line and the lane will be changed to the international sizes. The 3-point line will move back about 9 inches to 20-6 ¼…

The trapezoid lane widens the lane at the base 7-8 ¼ inches to 19-8 ¼.

The NCAA will meet in January to consider making both changes to the men’s game and the 3-point line in the women’s game permanent next season.

MORE PRESEASON PRAISE: The Sporting News ranked Missouri the fourth-best team in the country and also called the Tigers’ backcourt the best in the country.

CBS calls Paulding the best small forward. Johnson earned the No. 2 spot at center, and Conley was named the ninth-best shooting guard.

Getting Started: The Tigers start their exhibition schedule against Interhoop at 7 p.m. Monday at Hearnes Center.

Interhoop is a traveling team composed of players from Lithuania, freshman Linas Kleiza’s native country.

A FAMILIAR FACE: Missouri’s second preseason game brings a familiar face back to Columbia on Nov. 18.

The Tigers will face Asheville of the NBDL, the developmental league for the NBA. That Altitude roster boasts Luke Recker, who faced the Tigers twice in his senior season at Iowa in 2001-02.

Recker’s Hawkeyes lost in the finals of the Guardians Classic in November, but defeated the then-No. 2 Tigers 83-65 in December at Hearnes Center. Recker scored 31 points.

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