Seven long, arduous months after last season came to a close, the Missouri Tigers are finally playing basketball again.
The Tigers embarked on their 2011-12 campaign Friday afternoon at Mizzou Arena with the first official practice of the season.
The program has been in flux since MU’s last time on the hardwood, a 78-63 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Coach Mike Anderson became former coach a week after the loss, as he bolted for Arkansas. Rumors of his replacement ran rampant for weeks, and numerous high profile candidates such as Matt Painter of Purdue publicly rebuffed athletics director Mike Alden. Alden finally hired former Miami coach Frank Haith to replace Anderson.
“We’re not playing the Fastest 40 Minutes anymore," senior guard Marcus Denmon said. "We’ll put our own stamp on the program now with coach Haith and the rest of the coaching staff. Guys are buying into it.”
The hire came under further scrutiny when Haith’s name was mentioned in Yahoo! Sports allegations of wrongdoing at the University of Miami.
Two weeks ago, just as it appeared that the Tigers had closed the book on their tumultuous off-season, Haith announced senior starting power forward Laurence Bowers would miss the 2011-12 campaign with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“Everyone has to step their game up to replace what Laurence gives you,” Haith said. “Our guards have to play better. Our wings have to play better. It can’t be just one person.”
Haith hinted the Tigers would play small-ball from time to time, using four perimeter players to compensate for an extremely thin frontline. Redshirt freshman forward Kadeem Green and seniors center Steve Moore and forward Ricardo Ratliffe are the only power forward/center types on the roster.
Green has yet to receive a minute of action at MU after redshirting last season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, which he suffered his senior year of high school.
“He (Green) needs the court time,” Haith said. “I think he has a chance. He’s athletic, he’s long, but you don’t know how someone’s going to respond until they’re actually playing when it means something.”
But the Tigers have plenty of depth in the backcourt. Sophomore guard Phil Pressey, junior guard Mike Dixon and senior guards Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Matt Pressey all saw good minutes last year.
The abundance of able guards is cause for optimism because, as Haith pointed out, if the guards play well enough, opposing teams will have to adjust to the Tigers’ lack of size.
“When you have good guard play, you’re always going to have a chance to win basketball games,” Haith said. “The guards control the game. Phil (Pressey) and Mike Dixon are terrific. It’s a blessing to have two guys that can control the game like that.”
After last year’s shortcomings and a turbulent off-season, the Tigers are excited for a fresh start.
“Last year was the most disappointing, sad, frustrating, mad, upsetting, losing year of my life,” English said. “I’m ready to rekindle the flame and start playing some games again.”