The first day of practice is always like a holiday for Jimmy McKinney, but this year he found a $75-million present under the tree.
McKinney and the Missouri men’s basketball team started the season Saturday with an early morning practice at Paige Arena, the Tigers’ new state-of-the-art home.
“You’re always excited for the first day of practice,” McKinney said. “It’s just like waking up for Christmas day when you’re a kid.”
The Tigers have a new look to go with the new arena.
“This year, like I said, it’s a totally different year: new team, new arena, new coaching staff, and we’ve got new goals for our team,” sophomore guard Thomas Gardner said.
Two new assistant coaches, Melvin Watkins and Jeff Meyer, helped run an intense, up-tempo practice.
Watkins emphasized discipline, and Meyer concentrated on offensive drills. At one point, Watkins made senior guard Jason Conley run a sprint for missing a dunk. He also harped on Kevin Young for not keeping his hands up while rebounding.
“How can you lead the league in rebounding if you don’t keep your hands up?” Watkins said. “You’ve got to think like that.”
Missouri hired Watkins and Meyer in the offseason to replace Tony Harvey and Lane Odom, who both resigned after last season amidst the NCAA allegations of recruiting violations.
Watkins, who was head coach at Texas A&M the past six seasons, resigned last spring after the Aggies failed to win a Big 12 Conference game. Meyer spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach at Butler. Meyer was also a head coach at Liberty for 16 years.
“You can see just the experience that they have in teaching the game, something that’s an asset for me,” coach Quin Snyder said. “Their insights are really good, and I’m looking forward to all of us working together.
“We’ve been on the court about four to six hours the last week, each day, talking about practice and talking about basketball, and you get reminded that you’re actually a basketball coach, and that’s a lot of fun.”
In addition to new coaches, the Tigers added four freshmen and one transfer. Guards Jason Horton and Glen Dandridge, forward Marshall Brown and center Kalen Grimes are the freshmen. Marcus Watkins, son of the Tigers’ new assistant coach, transferred from Texas A&M.
The younger players had an immediate impact on the practice.
Horton, a point guard, looked comfortable running the offense.
Grimes used his size to make his presence known in the post, setting strong screens and attacking the basket.
Watkins, a junior, picked up on his father’s instructions, shouting, “hands, hands,” whenever a ball was loose.
“We’ve got a lot of new players, and I’m looking forward to the chance to coach some of these guys,” Snyder said. “If you count Jeffrey (Ferguson) being away, we’ve really got six new guys, so almost half of our team is new.”
“Right now we’re really focused on trying to play great defense, and we’ll take as much time as we need on that, and that’s exciting for a coach. It needs to be exciting for the players.”