There wasn’t a Snoop Dog performance or money cannons, but the public still got its first taste of the Missouri men’s basketball team on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers had an open practice before the football team’s Homecoming game where fans saw the team do drills for a little over an hour.
The practice was quiet for most of the afternoon until freshman Mario McKinney Jr. made his presence felt with a right-handed slam that elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd.
The freshman guard from Saint. Louis showed off his athleticism with more dunks the rest of the afternoon, including one where he drove past Reed Nikko and rose quickly for a one-handed jam.
“He’s real fast and he’s growing real fast,” Jeremiah Tilmon said. “His game has progressed instantly.”
“He’s going to be a tremendous plus for us this year,” Javon Pickett said.
Coach Cuonzo Martin said McKinney has been the most improved player for Missouri since the team started workouts in June. Martin has credited some of that transition to McKinney’s career at Vashon, where he won three state titles.
“He’s not in awe of a stage of people because he’s seen it for so long. It’s just basketball to him,” Martin said.
McKinney still has a lot of competition to see the court this season, with Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith and Mark Smith returning at the guard positions. Missouri will need a lot of depth at those positions this season with a higher frequency of four-guard lineups.
Martin considers freshman Kobe Brown and Tray Jackson as bigger guards who can play at the four spot with big man Tilmon in the middle.
“I just think that’s who we are,” Martin said.
He also said Mitchell Smith can add some minutes as a traditional four-man, but Missouri’s guards will be playing off Tilmon, who will have a big role in the offense this year.
“The way he is playing, a lot of things can go through Jeremiah,” Martin said. “If he is doing the thing we expect him to do, the biggest thing for other guys is being able to make open shots because he’ll get you open opportunities to score the ball.”
Big man Axel Okongo had his first day of practice after missing time with turf toe while Tilmon is fully healthy after a scare with his back.
Guard Mark Smith is close to being healed after an ankle injury last season — his return will make the Tigers fully healthy for the first time this off-season.
“(Smith) is about there and that’s important,” Martin said. “We’ll be able to practice with our whole team and that’ll be the first time we can do that on a consistent basis.”