After playing the 2006-2007 season with six new players, the Missouri men’s basketball team will probably be adding only two newcomers next season. One of them, DeMarre Carroll, sat out last season after transferring from Vanderbilt last spring but practiced all season with the Tigers. The other was confirmed Thursday.
Justin Safford, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward from Charis Prep in Goldsboro, N.C., signed a national letter of intent on Wednesday to play for the Tigers. Before playing one season at Charis, Safford attended Bloomington Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, Ill. As a senior, Safford averaged 15.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and was an honorable mention Class A all-state player.
“We are certainly excited to bring in a young man of Justin’s ability as well as character,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said in a release. “He’s a guy that made great strides over the past year and that has made him a better player and a better student. We were able to be very selective in the recruiting process and with Justin, we found a young man that has the ‘want-to’ to improve and more importantly, the work ethic to make it happen.”
After his senior year of high school, Safford had few scholarship offers to play Division I college basketball. And, instead of playing two years of junior college basketball, he chose to enroll at Charis Prep for one season.
“It was well worth the wait to sign with Missouri,” Safford said. “Needless to say, I am excited to be a Missouri Tiger. It’s a program I am familiar with, and of course I watched the Braggin’ Rights Game while growing up. Honestly, living in the state of Illinois, I grew up an Illinois fan, but after talking with my family, we know coach Anderson has something special going on at Missouri, and we are excited to be a part of it.”
At Charis, he averaged 17.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks for a team that went 36-8. Charis Prep coach Carlos Peralta said he had to refine Safford’s game, not remake it.
“The three main areas we focused on with Justin were tightening up his game, helping him recognize when to use and how to utilize his advanced skill set, and the third area was improving his overall toughness,” Peralta said. “Not that Justin lacked physical toughness, it was teaching him how to play every play and play it at a level where you could make an impact each time down the floor. If I had to rank those three areas, his gains in that overall toughness category would rank near the top with regards to his improvement.”
Next season, Safford will be one of seven players Missouri lists as a forward. To get playing time, Safford will have to compete with Carroll, junior Leo Lyons and seniors Marshall Brown, Darryl Butterfield, Glen Dandridge, Kalen Grimes and Vaidotas Volkus. While he might not get much playing time next season, Scout.com recruiting expert Dave Telep said Safford has potential to be successful at Missouri.
“Justin is a player that can do a little bit of everything,” Telep said. “He’s a 4-man that can face the basket. He’s not grounded by any means. He can get out and run the floor and with his size, the buzzword with Justin certainly is his versatility. That will allow him to be successful in coach Anderson’s system.”
Unless a scholarship is opened up by a departing player, Safford is the last addition Anderson will make for next season.