If it were up to Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith, Keion Bell wouldn’t challenge Phil Pressey in a dunk contest and Laurence Bowers would have to wait to make his public return to the court.
In a normal year, Friday’s Mizzou Madness would simply be another practice.
But this season is everything but normal, and Haith knows it.
“My arm had to be twisted a little bit,” Haith said of scheduling the new fan-oriented scrimmage, which will air at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPNU and ESPN3.com. “We’re getting some national exposure out of this deal on TV, which I think is a neat thing. … Sometimes these things are good for your program.”
In a preseason where they’re bringing national buzz to their first year in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers will place the spotlight on themselves Friday. They will host the usual Black and Gold game, this time surrounding it with grand entrances, autographs and a dunk competition.
For fans, it will be the first taste of what the new Tigers season could showcase after last year’s 30-4 campaign ended with an 86-84 upset to No. 15 seed Norfolk State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
For the transfers, Mizzou Madness will do the same.
“I’m excited myself, so I can’t really notice anyone else’s excitement level,” said Bell, a senior guard who sat out last season after transferring from Pepperdine. “It’s just going to be fun to finally get back on the court because I’ve sat out for a long time.”
Bell said a summer trip to Europe and weekly team practices, as allowed this offseason by a new NCAA rule, aided the transfers in building up chemistry on a new team. The result, he said, was he became a much more vocal player.
Haith said Bell is now one of the top leaders in the locker room.
“I know last year, the team didn’t have that high of expectations from people outside of the program but they trusted each other and in the locker room, they were real close,” Bell said. “Kim English told me the quicker we can implement that into this year’s locker room the better we’ll be.”
The new transfers — such as starters from other major programs in Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi and Auburn guard Earnest Ross — will also look to the team’s top returning talent for leadership in a time begging for instant chemistry.
The Tigers return three upperclassmen who have received All-Big 12 Conference recognition in their careers in junior guard Pressey, senior guard Michael Dixon and redshirt senior forward Bowers.
Dixon and Pressey are the only players who logged minutes during last season’s Big 12 Tournament championship season. Bowers sat out the year with a torn ACL after starting the previous year.
“We (Pressey and Dixon) have to help guys along and get guys into the rotation and get them running plays,” Dixon said. “It’s our job as the leaders and players on this team.”
Mizzou Madness will also see the return to form of Bowers, who will play in a game setting for the first time in what he estimated to be 17 or 18 months. His excitement for the season goes beyond personal glory.
"I've never really come out and said we have a chance to win a national championship but I feel with this team, we really do,” Bowers said.
Haith said the team is aware of outside expectations entering this season, just as it was last year when buzz wasn’t quite so high.
“Why should we buy into the hype or pay attention to what people are saying now when we didn’t listen to them last year?” he said.
It’s the one area where the second-year coach isn’t changing a thing.