A year ago, when Missouri starting forward Laurence Bowers went down with a season-ending ACL tear in the preseason, coach Frank Haith sent guard Kim English to take his place. Guards were all he had.
When the reverse happened and Haith lost senior guard Keion Bell to the flu before Sunday’s exhibition game against Missouri Southern, he chose to fill this void with freshman Stefan Jankovic.
When called upon Sunday, the 6-foot-11-inch, 230-pound player was more than ready to adjust his game. He dropped 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting to lead the Tigers to an 86-60 victory.
The opportunity presented itself when Haith found out Sunday morning that Bell had a fever of 103.
“We didn’t want him around our team,” Haith said, referring to Bell's illness.
Jankovic played just nine minutes in Missouri’s 91-58 exhibition victory Monday over Northwest Missouri State. He had spent all of one practice at the shooting guard position, and he had to have Haith walk him through plays before the game Sunday morning.
By game time, it didn’t matter. Jankovic became the latest of Haith’s Tigers to succeed in a role he’s barely tried.
“I’m confident wherever,” Jankovic said. “I like to use my versatility, whether it’s down low or outside.”
The move to the wing sent Jankovic for much of the game to the perimeter, where he found success. He was 3 of 4 on 3-point field goals, and Haith commended his efforts in guarding outside players on the other end.
“He gives you a luxury because he’s probably one of the better shooters on our team,” Haith said. “Even at the three spot, he makes great passes because he can see over defenses. He can skip the ball. He’s talked about cutting through the lane — that’s all new for him.”
Jankovic’s coming-out party aligned with one by his childhood friend, freshman guard Negus Webster-Chan. With Bell and suspended senior Mike Dixon not available, Webster-Chan got the start at shooting guard.
A bulk of Webster-Chan’s time was spent as point guard in relief of junior Phil Pressey. That was when he shined with Jankovic, who subbed in at shooting guard at the same time. Webster-Chan totaled 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers in 28 minutes.
The teammates from Huntington Prep in Ontario showed off their chemistry and gained the loudest cheers of the game during a play in the second half. Webster-Chan found Jankovic at the top of the key, and the forward-turned-guard cut through traffic for a one-handed slam.
“I knew he wanted to dunk,” Webster-Chan said. “Stef (Jankovic) can dunk like that.”
Though Haith was impressed with Jankovic’s performance as a shooting guard, he said he is unsure of the role the freshman will play this season after the returns of Bell, Dixon and sophomore guard Jabari Brown. After transferring from Oregon midseason a year ago, Brown will have to sit out the first semester.
With the regular season set to tip off Saturday, Jankovic said he is just grateful for the opportunity to show what he can do.
“It’s big time,” he said. “It builds my confidence, and it helps lead on for the rest of the season.”