The Missouri basketball team wrapped up preseason workouts this week and is scheduled to begin practice Friday. With their first exhibition game just three weeks away, the new and old Tigers continue to gel in preparation for November.
Missouri graduated three key seniors last year: top rebounder Keith Ramsey, steals leader Zaire Taylor and defensive specialist J.T. Tiller. This year’s group has just one senior in forward Justin Safford and a group of game-tested juniors ready to take the lead.
Besides two transfer students, Missouri features four experienced juniors, three of whom led the Tigers in scoring last year. Junior guard Marcus Denmon is one of those returning juniors who knows he has big shoes to fill with the seniors gone.
“We're just trying to take on those positions and become leaders,” Denmon said. “We just want to show the younger guys the way. We're a pretty close group, and we've gelled with each other through all the ups and downs of the past few seasons."
Coach Mike Anderson explained the circumstances in which this junior class grew and how they were his first true recruiting class after he joined Missouri four years ago.
"It was the first big class that we actually had the chance to go out and select and pick the kids that we thought fit,” Anderson said. “I think those guys really started a standard when you talk about that particular class.”
One of the youngsters in the juniors’ supporting cast is sophomore guard Michael Dixon. Dixon logged significant playing time his freshman year, playing 16 minutes per game and leading the team in free throw percentage.
The point guard and 3-point threat knows the expectations of the upperclassmen and is eager to do his part.
“It’s challenging because those junior guys expect to do a lot this year,” Dixon said. “I feel like I can contribute and help them out any way I can. I think that we all mesh well together and we will more as the season comes along.”
The expectations of the players might not match those of the Big 12’s coaches, as the Tigers were ranked fifth in the preseason polls despite returning four of their top five scorers. Missouri is used to being underestimated in the polls as it was ranked seventh the past two years.
Although the Tigers might have something to prove as a team, some individual players also have a chip on their shoulders. Missouri brought in two transfers students this year, junior guard Matt Pressey and junior forward Ricardo Ratliffe.
The 6-foot-8-inch, 240-pound Ratliffe joins the Tigers after two stellar years at Central Florida Community College, where he earned national junior college player of the year recognition. The new post presence was also named the Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year on Thursday.
"Coach Anderson brought me in here to rebound, score on the block and really just get some extra depth,” Ratliffe said. “I think I do a pretty good job of bringing that to the table.”
Joining Ratliffe and Pressey as first-year Tigers are the three freshmen of the 2010 recruiting class. Freshmen Ricky Kreklow, Kadeem Green and Phil Pressey head up the class as the much-hyped Tony Mitchell awaits NCAA eligibility. The 5-foot-10-inch Pressey joins his older brother, who transferred to Missouri from Navarro Community College.
The Tigers' season opens with back-to-back home exhibition games, beginning Nov. 5 at Mizzou Arena.