One of the constant questions surrounding coach Mike Anderson's 2009-2010 Missouri basketball team is how it will replace the production and leadership of seniors DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence.
The trio combined for 40.4 points per game, exactly half of the team's game average of 80.8. Although there are many players capable of filling the void, sophomore forward Laurence Bowers has stepped up in the early going to provide the Tigers with some consistency.
"Coming into this year, I knew that the departure of Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll took a load of our scoring away," Bowers said. "So coach is going to need the forwards to step up."
Bowers has taken the challenge to heart. Through the first five games of the season, he is leading the team with 6.2 rebounds per game and is second with 11 points per game. Although he has yet to start a game, Bowers logs the fourth-most minutes of any Tiger with 21.8.
One of the staples of Anderson's teams is a strong bench. Bowers has secured his spot as the top player off the bench. And though the season is early, he has earned Anderson's praise.
"Whether he starts or not, he's going to be constant," Anderson said. "He's going to give it everything he's got. Laurence has a toughness about him."
Due to the upperclassmen ahead of him on the depth chart last season, Bowers received limited playing time. But when he was on the court, Bowers showed promise. If there was a flashy play to be made, Bowers made it. Dunks, ally-oops, swatted shots — they were all part of his repertoire. Bowers said this season he is focusing on trying to become a better all-around player.
"I feel I'm more active this year, defensively and while rebounding," Bowers said. "Every rebound I feel like is mine. I just try to be scrappy, a blue-collar kind of guy. We miss DeMarre, and I'm just trying to fill in the void that he left, and at the same time, try to be somewhat of a scorer like Leo was."
His teammates have noticed the improvement and evolution from last year.
"He's taken on a bigger role," senior guard J.T. Tiller said of Bowers. "He's playing with a high intensity and has become that scoring 'big' for us right now. After last year, he saw what DeMarre and Leo did, and he's following in their footsteps. I think he's seen a spot that needs to be stepped into, and he saw the opportunity and took advantage of it."
At the South Padre Island Invitational, Bowers made his presence felt. Although Missouri fell to Richmond in the championship game Nov. 28, Bowers and fellow sophomore Kim English were named to the All-Tournament Team.
"The guy who has been the most consistent continued to be," Anderson said. "I thought Laurence gave it everything he had. It's encouraging. If you watch our defense, he deflects a lot of passes. He's just got a tremendous feel for the game. It's natural to him, and he's taking advantage of the opportunity."