The combination of a new arena and a highly motivated team played an integral role in attracting two recruits to Missouri.
Keaton Grant, a senior guard at Gateway High in Kissimmee, Fla., signed a national letter of intent to attend Missouri on Wednesday, the first day recruits could sign.
The Tigers also announced Wednesday that Matt Lawrence, a senior shooting guard at Lafayette High in Ballwin, Mo., officially accepted an offer of admission at Missouri.
“I’ve said if you build it they will come,” coach Quin Snyder said. “And we don’t have Kevin Costner and Shoeless Joe, but we’ve got Jimmy and Lenny.”
The additions come in light of NCAA sanctions that reduced Missouri’s scholarships from 13 to 12.Grant is a three-year starter, who ran the point each of the past two seasons.
Gateway won 10 games his freshman year, 17 his sophomore year and 21 last year when he averaged 22.5 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Grant said the team is aiming to go undefeated this season.
Lawrence, who orally committed to Missouri in June, will take an academic scholarship and walk-on for the Tigers.
Grant is listed at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, but Bob Baker, his coach at Gateway, said both numbers are deceiving.
“He plays much bigger than that with his jumping ability, athleticism and quickness,” Baker said.
Grant has also spent time in the weight room during the offseason, and Baker said the skinny kid he first met in eighth grade now weighs about 202 pounds.
“It’s been fun watching him go from a boy to a man as far as his body is concerned,” Baker said. “Every year in the offseason he takes his game more and more serious.
“It’s like watching your kid grow up. It’s hard to believe I only have one more year with him and he’s gone. He’s spoiled me.”
Lafayette coach Dave Porter has seen a similar commitment from Lawrence, who is 6-6, 195 pounds.
“It’s been tremendous to watch him grow,” Porter said. “When he was younger he looked like a newborn deer, skinny and gangly, but he could always shoot and he’s always had a little savvy.
“Then at the end of last season he made a commitment to building his strength and he really worked hard to be the type of player you need to be in the Big 12 (Conference): big and strong.”
Missouri assistant coach Jeff Meyer likened Grant’s decision to finding the right puzzle piece.
“A lot of recruiting is not so much getting the best player out there but getting the right combination,” Meyer said. “It’s a good fit. Given where we are with the solid nucleus of sophomores and the talented freshmen class, he is going to fit nicely into that group of players.”
Grant, who turned down Tennessee, Penn State, South Florida and Georgia Tech, said his decision to attend Missouri stemmed largely from the passion he saw in those players.
“When I came back from the trip that’s where I really wanted to be,” Grant said. “The players that they have right now, they’re winners. They want to win. They’re hungry to win. And they work hard, that’s the biggest thing.”
As for the $75-million Paige Sports Arena, Grant noted its impact as well.
“That tells you how much they do love their basketball program getting a new, top-of-the-line stadium,” Grant said.
Meyer said Grant would likely play a wing position, and his experience at the point is an added incentive.
“He is a skilled and athletic backcourt player, we see him more as a wing guard who we think will bring a defensive presence and a competitive attitude to our program,” Meyer said.”
Lawrence, like Grant, will play on the wing.
He was the Player of the Year last season in the Suburban West Conference, averaging 16.1 points and 5 rebounds.
Lawrence chose Missouri over Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and Stanford. His grandfather played basketball at Indiana, but since he was a kid he wanted to be a Tiger.
WOMEN’S TEAM:Missouri signed Alyssa Hollins, a 6-foot guard from Mesquite, Texas on Wednesday. Hollins averaged 14.1 points and 5.1 rebounds last season as a junior at John Horn High. She was the co-Offensive Player of the Year in her district and earned second team All-Region honors from the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.
Coach Cindy Stein said Hollins has athleticism and defensive prowess, and is an excellent shooter.
“Her versatility was really a blessing to us, and I think she can help us right away.”