COLUMBIA — If the fans are already in town for football, maybe they want to see some basketball too.
It seems to have worked so far.
About 500 people showed up before the Missouri football game Saturday to watch the men’s basketball team play pick-up games in an open gym session at Mizzou Arena. It was the best turnout so far for the team, which has hosted similar events before the other two Missouri home football games.
“There is a real buzz around the program this year and there is definitely an audience for these type of events,” basketball spokesman Dave Reiter said.
Some of that buzz has come from the college basketball preview magazines. Athlon Sports and Lindy’s College Basketball already predicted the Tigers will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002-03. The Tigers also return the core of the team that went 18-12 last season.
“I definitely think it’s a good thing to open up the gym to the fans before football games,” junior forward Matt Lawrence said. “Give them a little sneak preview, generate a little buzz.”
The team warmed up in their “Gold Rush” T-shirts before playing full-court pickup games for an hour and a half. Coach Mike Anderson, who is only allowed two hours per week with the team before the season officially starts, was not in attendance.
But plenty of gold shirts filled the stands.
Trey Pettlon and friends Kevin Worley and Phil Stockwell sat in the front row watching the open gym session. The three graduated from MU in 1988 and went to high school together at North Kansas City High School. They now have football season tickets.
“It’s a great idea,” Pettlon said. “I like to have a chance to see the players as much as possible, quite frankly, early and often.”
MU seniors Jeff Volk and Brad Spatola, wearing their Tigers’ Lair T-shirts, took time off their tailgate to get a preview of thebasketball team.
“I like it, it’s a good way to see the team when it’s not quite in season,” Volk said. “I like to be able to see everything and it’s a good way to pass the time before the football game starts.”
“It’s good to be back in the arena,” Spatola added.
The team officially starts its season on Oct. 12 with Mizzou Madness, where fans are invited to watch the men’s and women’s teams play games, have competitions and scrimmage in their first “official” practices of the year.
•Three of Missouri’s five verbally committed recruits for next season were at the open gym session. They were forward Steve Moore, point guard Miguel Paul and small forward Laurence Bowers. Mike Dixon, a high school junior point guard, was also at practice.
•Leo Lyons drew the biggest reactions from the crowd with an array of acrobatic dunks. The junior forward showed off a two-handed jam early on and later finished an alley-oop from senior point guard Jason Horton. Near the end of practice Lyons broke away and finished a windmill dunk and after practice nearly threw down a dunk from the free throw line.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Lyons said. “I’ve had two first years with two new coaches so this will be the first year I’ve got with the same coach for two years so I’m feeling pretty good, I know what I’ve got to do, I know the system.”