It hasn’t even been a month since Missouri lost its lone NCAA Tournament game to Oklahoma, yet in a matter of weeks, college basketball has been shaken up by the NCAA transfer portal. Missouri emerged from the subsequent rubble with a new look. Coach Cuonzo Martin spoke with the media Wednesday to discuss his new squad’s outlook, the portal and what’s left of this season’s team.
Here are five takeaways from Martin’s Zoom meeting with the media.
Fans shouldn’t overreact about losses to the portal
The transfer portal has never been so prominent. It’s seen a gradual overload over the past couple summers, and it’s peaked during an unusual offseason. The portal has amassed nearly 1,400 players as of Wednesday morning. The number will only continue to increase .
COVID-19 has granted many players’ wishes. Not only has it provided an extra year of eligibility, it’s allowed players to go to whatever school they choose without sitting out: a college kid’s dream when they realize that their initial decision wasn’t the right one.
Martin is on board, embracing the way players come and go with a shrug. While it’s led to several players causing a shift in his rotation, he’s already dragged in a few players who can patch it up.
“I don’t really think it’s a bad thing,” Martin said. “... It doesn’t bother me anyway because you have a right to. … I think it’s a great opportunity. I like the three guys that we have coming to our program. I like the high school guys we have coming to our program. So, I think it’s a great thing on both sides.”
Martin plays things by the book. The first thing he mentioned was the respect that must be there for coaches to not recruit or even tamper with a player while they’re still playing for another program.
The fourth-year Tigers coach wishes that those who transfer not only go somewhere where they’ll play and succeed, but somewhere where their college credits will properly transfer. In the meantime, he’ll look to fill out his last couple of roster spots with his paws in the portal.
What’s left for the Tigers to hunt this summer
Missouri has zeroed in on guards this offseason. New additions DaJuan Gordon, Jarron “Boogie” Coleman and Amari Davis find themselves in the backcourt, though Gordon could slide over as the third guard in one of Martin’s guard-heavy rotations.
Martin didn’t pin a particular position to the drawing board, but instead laid out the characteristics the Tigers are seeking.
“Anytime you can add scoring at the fit of what you try, you always want to add that, whether it’s interior or a perimeter guy,” Martin said. “But I think also interior activity. For us it’s not necessarily a four or five. It’s just a guy that can play on the interior. A physical brand, a level of toughness and experience.”
Missouri intends to add at least one other player to fulfill 12 scholarships. Whether it surpasses that number is up in the air, though not intended at the moment.
“It’s sort of on the table to not fill 13,” Martin said. “ ... We’ve honed in on some guys, but you know more than anything, you never really play 13 guys. But you also have to have enough to be able to practice effectively. … But if there’s 11, 12 or 13, they have to understand who they are, where they fit into the scheme of things. And you have to be transparent again with them and their growth — whatever that is. But do we plan on certainly filling 12? Yes.”
What to expect from MU’s transfers
Fans might have been thrilled to find out that the Tigers landed a former four-star recruit and a Kansas State transfer in Gordon. Even if one has never heard of him, four stars and experience in the Big 12 is typically enough to sell someone.
But what about Missouri’s first two recruits, Davis and Coleman? If fans need any convincing that two players who succeeded at the mid-major level can translate to the Southeastern Conference, Martin laid it all out.
“I think the proof is in the pudding when you talk about Kassius (Robertson) and Dru Smith,” Martin said. “Two top guys to come from those levels. Like Dru Smith never made a first or second team (all-conference) at Evansville. I thought he should’ve been two-time SEC first team. Then you talk about Kassius, who made first team. So, if you can play, you can play.”
Davis and Coleman averaged 17.2 and 13.8 points, respectively, this season. It’s hard to argue with buckets. Martin personally didn’t need to be hypnotized to bring the two on board.
“We’re not just talking to the prospects and their grassroots coaches but also other programs in their leagues,” Martin said. “I think in Amari’s case, and even Boogie’s case, they had coaches in their league call us about them. Those are talented players. They can score, they do what they do. When you can score the ball and get to the rim, you can play.”
As for Gordon, Martin had plenty to say.
“Toughness, no question,” Martin said when asked what Gordon provides. “A guy that can get a double-double on the perimeter. … He got all that tough stuff out of high school, so you’re talking about a guy that’s coming in that brings the edge to your program, which is something I think we need. A willingness to defend, rebound, run the floor, not afraid to challenge teammates in the right way.”
What to expect from the five freshmen
In the summer, the Tigers are welcoming their highest-rated class since 2017, which was headlined by Michael Porter Jr. and friends. This class is highlighted by four-star point guard Anton Brookshire, and a field of four stars in Yaya Kieta, Sean Durugordon, Trevon Brazile and Kaleb Brown.
Martin looked thrilled to talk about the young bucks, giving high praise to each one.
“I think Trevon Brazile and Sean Durugordon will be as good as two athletes you’ll see in this conference as far as 6-8, 6-5 guys running and jumping,” Martin said. “Anton Brookshire really improved his ability to score the ball. He got better every year.
“Kaleb Brown is a guy some might describe as a young Draymond Green. A guy who can facilitate, make plays with good size at the perimeter. Guard position, combo position, he’s one of those guys you can have all over the place because he’s that skilled, that intelligent. And then Yaya is as physical as any when you talk about interior guys.”
The five have the potential ultimately to make up a fluid lineup. Martin hasn’t yet fathomed the thought of a starting lineup, or any lineup for that matter. He’s just excited to get back on the floor and see what his new group can do.
Tigers fans should officially throw the remaining seniors a going-away partyThe portal hasn’t left much of this season’s team standing. Even seniors Mark Smith and Drew Buggs have parted ways with the program. But the remaining seniors’ — Dru Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon and Mitchell Smith — decisions were unknown before Tuesday.
Mitchell Smith announced on his Instagram on Tuesday morning that he was signing with JCK Sports Group in order to prepare for the next level. His move only raised questions for Dru Smith and Tilmon, the program’s prized players this season.
“All three — Jeremiah, Dru and Mitch — plan to sign with agents,” Martin said. “Might be signed right now or about to sign, if I’m not mistaken. So happy for those guys. I think it’s great for them, and I think those guys will do very well.”
After being named first-team and second-team All-SEC, respectively, Dru Smith and Tilmon always seemed likely to move on to the pro ranks after this season. But anything is possible, and some seniors have opted in to be super seniors at their programs across the country.
With all three officially gone, a new era will be underway for the Tigers.