With the Missouri basketball regular season opener looming, the Tigers are itching to show off the 2010-11 squad.
This year’s team features many familiar faces, as well as a few new ones. A dynamic freshman class of three playmakers and the addition of two junior college transfers have helped Missouri retain depth after the loss of their seniors.
The Tigers return their three leading scorers of the 2009-2010 season with a group of game-tested juniors. Junior guards Kim English and Marcus Denmon and junior forward Laurence Bowers led Missouri in scoring last year and were the only players to average double-digit points.
Bowers was second in rebounding and first in blocks last year while English and Denmon led the team in three-pointers made. Those team-leading numbers should only improve now that the stars are upperclassmen.
Coach Mike Anderson has seen improvement and leadership in his core group of juniors, but knows nothing has been proven yet.
“This is their time,” Anderson said. “They have improved from last year. But have they improved to the point where they can be the leaders of this basketball team? That remains to be seen.”
English thinks the juniors have made the transition from underclassmen scorers to upperclassmen role models.
“We’re stepping into that role,” English said. “We’re showing the guys what to do and how things are done at Mizzou. And they’re following suit and doing a great job.”
Although the juniors might be considered the leaders of the 2010 team, they have a mentor to look up to in senior forward Justin Safford.
Safford was a top-three rebounder and top-five scorer last year before his season was cut short by an ACL injury. He looks to return to full force this year and fully recover from his ACL surgery in March.
Anderson recognizes Safford’s role as the lone senior contributor and values the experience he voices to the younger players.
“He’s talking a lot more and coming outside his box,” Anderson said. “He’s been through the team that went 16-16 and obviously the last two years when we were a lot better. So hopefully those experiences that he’s had he can use those to lead these guys.”
Last year’s senior class played a major role, with J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor leading the team in assists and steals. Sophomore guard Michael Dixon hopes to fill the void and step up as Missouri’s youngest starter.
“My job as a point guard to get everybody involved early and get people the ball in the right situations and the right times,” Dixon said. “Just taking what the defense gives me offensively as far as knocking down open shots and getting to the basket when the opportunity presents itself.”
After practicing together all month and working out as a team in the offseason, Dixon is most excited to see the team’s athleticism in action.
“We’re just so athletic,” Dixon said. “As far as fast breaking and getting steals, they’re going to be a lot of highlights. Hopefully a lot of SportsCenter plays will be coming from Missouri basketball.”
Missouri’s regular season tips off at Mizzou Arena at 7 p.m. Thursday against Western Illinois.