It’s hard to imagine anyone calling Kalen Grimes, Missouri’s 6-foot-8 freshman center, a child. But Grimes’ mom, Glenda, doesn’t hesitate.
“I talk to my child several times a day, not that he always answers his cell phone,” Glenda Grimes said. “But seriously, we are very close.”
Making the adjustment from childlike dependence to self-sufficiency can be difficult for any college freshman.
The unique requirements of being a student athlete can compound the academic and personal challenges that come with starting college.
“I think we’ve handled it well,” freshman forward Marshall Brown said. “I think the biggest difference is they throw a lot of plays at us. I think we’ve got, like, 26 plays in like two or three weeks.”
Somewhere between classes, the practice gym and the press conferences, freshmen athletes have to find time to develop into men and players.
Grimes, Brown and fellow Missouri freshmen Glen Dandridge and Jason Horton will have to do so while facing the increased attention of the program’s highly publicized NCAA violations.
Missouri needs its four freshmen to develop and contribute as soon as possible.
“I don’t know that we are starting over so much as we are starting fresh,” coach Quin Snyder said. “We had a few kids that really had done a great job for us over the course of their careers, and graduated and moved on. I think there’s an unbelievable opportunity for new guys to step forward and play prominent roles.”
The departures of leading rebounder Arthur Johnson and leading scorer Ricky Paulding leave the Tigers with some holes to fill.
“We just came in really focused on what we wanted to do,” Brown said. “We knew coming in we were going to get a lot of playing time so we just had to step up.”
Horton might face the greatest demands. The Tigers started him at point guard in exhibition games and will likely call upon him to run the offense this season. He said it’s hard to assume so much responsibility so early.
“It takes a lot more intensity,” Horton said. “In high school I could take days off and still have a good game, but now I’ve got to be focused all the time.”
Horton is still struggling to fully recover from a blood clot in his shoulder after offseason surgery. The injury has complicated the physical demands the jump from high school to college requires.
“Conditioning is different, but I think we’ve all adjusted well,” Brown said. “I think Jason has had the hardest time since he had the arm problem, but now he’s coming back strong.”
Grimes and Brown will also likely be called upon to make immediate contributions as Missouri tries to shore up its presence under the basket.
“I have been really impressed with (Kalen’s) passion,” Snyder said. “I think, seeing him at the collegiate level as opposed to the high school level, he is allowed to use his big (250-pound) body a little bit more. We haven’t called a lot of fouls in practice and Kalen has liked that.
“Marshall is a unique player in that he gives us versatility. He has played inside a little bit in high school and he’s learning to play the floor. He has the ability to impact the game in a lot of ways and has maybe been our best rebounder.”
Grimes said conditioning is one of the hardest things about competing at the college level.
“It’s tough,” Grimes said. “I dropped some weight because coach wants us to run the floor better. I’m just happy to have this opportunity even if it is hard work.”
Dandridge, at 6-6, will likely see time at both the guard and forward positions. He has good shooting range and will probably be an important scoring threat off the bench.
“Glen is one of the best shooters I’ve seen,” senior guard Jason Conley said. “I’m just glad to have him on my team.”
The freshmen have been quick to earn the respect of the rest of the Tigers’ squad.
“Any of those guys can start,” junior guard Jimmy McKinney said. “Any of those guys can start on any other team. They can go in another conference or this conference and start. That just lets you know that we’re really deep.”
The freshmen have said the support of teammates has made a potentially difficult learning period a little less overwhelming.
“I enjoy playing with these guys,” Horton said. “I’m playing with a lot more talented players than I did in high school, so that has made it a lot easier on me. They make me feel more comfortable. We just help each other and get through it.”
Only time, and the Tigers’ record, will tell just how successful the Missouri freshmen are in adapting to the college game, but thus far, the transition seems to be a smooth one.
“A lot of kids, when they go away to school, want to come home all the time, but not Kalen,” Glenda Grimes said. “He loves it at Mizzou, but I think his schedule is such that he wouldn’t be able to come home even if he wanted to.”