Missouri explores options

Friday, December 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:17 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

What exactly, if the situation was to arise, would a college basketball team do without their starting point guard and floor general?

In Missouri’s case, as was proven Wednesday in a 68-56 win over Eastern Illinois, there are options.

Senior Jimmy McKinney has experience at the position, but an emerging option in the form of James Douglas might land prominent minutes in the role.

While sophomore starter Jason Horton idly viewed Wednesday’s game, Douglas played a career high 21 minutes. His stat line wasn’t overwhelming- he tallied two of each in points, rebounds, assists and turnovers- but his play in the game and lately on the practice court has encouraged his coaches.

“He’s been doing well,” assistant Lance Irvin said. “He’s been doing real well in the last few practices and I thought he did a great job pushing the ball up (Wednesday).”

“He took care of the ball, got in the lane some, he was talking, being vocal and leading, and he was very focused.”

After not seeing the court at Davidson, Douglas has averaged 12 minutes per game since. Whether the playing time trend curves upward, like against Eastern Illinois, or stays the same depends mostly on Horton’s status.

Irvin said Horton practiced with the team Thursday as he normally would, but did not know whether he would play in tonight’s 8 p.m. home game against Oakland.

Coach Quin Snyder declined to offer details of what could be termed a de facto suspension Wednesday — Horton dressed but did not play — when Snyder said, “We’ve got certain standards, in practice and in games, and we’ll play the guys that meet those standards consistently.”

Irvin said he was still unaware of what prompted the benching after the matter was not discussed at a staff meeting Thursday.

“To be totally honest I’m not really sure what it is,” Irvin said referring to the circumstances of Horton’s benching.

Whether it was something that happened at Illinois, in practice, or something else completely, history indicates Horton will return to the court soon. After being suspended last year for disciplinary reasons, Horton returned after sitting only one game, the Kansas home finale.

But even if he does return, Douglas seems to have established himself as an option, if nothing else. Regardless of the role he occupies, Douglas says he’s ready to see the court.

“No matter how many minutes I play I’m gonna still go out there and play hard,” Douglas said. “(I) Just want to go out there and get the job done.”

Many who saw the team play early on in the exhibition season questioned what, if anything, Douglas would be able to contribute this year. After spending two years at Eastern Illinois- one was a redshirt year- Douglas spent last season at Schoolcraft Community College.

Despite the experience, Douglas, a junior, struggled early with his ball handling when he often tried to do too much. Irvin said Douglas had to learn he couldn’t dribble between, or try any wild spin moves around, three defenders.

“The thing with juco guys is it usually takes time,” Irvin said, “The level and the speed makes you adjust and that doesn’t happen right away. But he’s definitely gotten better.”

Now that he’s adjusted to Missouri’s system, Douglas has looked to shoot more, though still not much. After scoring only one point in Missouri’s first five games, Douglas has eight points through the past four games. The numbers might still be modest, but show a contrast in attitude.

“He was very timid, he wasn’t looking to shoot,” Irvin said of Douglas’ early play. “We talked about it as a staff and Coach Snyder told him, ‘Look, you need to shoot that open 15-footer,’ and he’s been better since then.

“He had a nice move last night,” Irvin added referring to the turn-around Douglas made from the right elbow in his only attempt from the field.

A point guard with no trouble shooting the ball, Calvin Wooten, leads Oakland. Wooten averages 22.8 points per game for the Golden Grizzlies while shooting .459 percent from the field and .440 percent from beyond the arc.

“He’s a heck of an offensive player, definitely a player we have to watch,” Irvin said of Wooten, who transferred to Oakland from Rutgers.

“Whoever it is, if it’s Horton or Jimmy or James, they can’t make it personal. Defense is always a team game, but they’re gonna be challenged.”

It is the third time in as many years the Tigers and Oakland have met; the second straight at Mizzou Arena. Although Missouri is 2-0 against the Golden Grizzlies, both games have been single-digit victories.

If a victory depends on the point guard, Irvin doesn’t necessarily say Missouri is reliant on Horton being in the lineup.

Jimmy McKinney, forced into the role for the 2003-2004 season because of the loss of Ricky Clemons, backed up the point much of last year and played there much of Wednesday’s game. Irvin said the modern college basketball player must be able to play multiple positions, and the experience will help McKinney potentially if he plays pro ball.

“Jimmy has shown over time he can play there and do a good job,” Irvin said.

Asked if Missouri would struggle if Douglas became the primary guy at point, Irvin didn’t hesitate.

“We’re very comfortable with James out on the court, if we weren’t he wouldn’t be here,” Irvin said about the possibility of Douglas playing extended minutes in absence of Horton, or otherwise.

It seems likely that this is merely an exercise in the hypothetical, because Horton could easily be on the court for the tonight’s tip-off. But with the ever-present possibility of injury or other problems, options are a commodity, and Douglas seems confident he can be counted on as an option.

“It was just a little bit of time before I came out of my shell and started playing better,” Douglas said.

“I can (play significant minutes); Come in, do whatever coach needs me to do, get my teammates involved and play defense.”

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