When it was his turn March 10 in Kansas City, Missouri senior forward Laurence Bowers delicately climbed the ladder that had been propped up at the foot of one of the Sprint Center’s hoops.
The team he was once supposed to play a key role for on the court had just clinched its second-ever Big 12 Conference Tournament title in its final Big 12 game.
Atop the ladder, Bowers snipped away a piece of the net, a keepsake of a season he was subjected to spectate from the sidelines.
“Next year!” Bowers shouted after climbing back down as a wide grin spanned across his face.
Missouri’s leading shot blocker from the 2010-11 season will return for the 2012-13 campaign after being granted a medical redshirt from the NCAA for the ACL injury he suffered prior to this season.
In addition to Bowers, junior guard Michael Dixon and sophomore point guard Phil Pressey are the only returnees to have played meaningful minutes for the Tigers.
Gone are seniors Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Steve Moore, Matt Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe, as well as Missouri’s Big 12 affiliation.
Pressey will remain the point guard. Dixon, coming off a season in which he was named Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, will compete for a starting position but should see around 30 minutes a game regardless, coach Frank Haith said. With Bowers returning to power forward, three starting spots will be open for competition as the offseason progresses.
Transfers Keion Bell, Jabari Brown, Danny Feldman and Earnest Ross will help usher in the Southeastern Conference era for Missouri basketball. Although Missouri’s main competition will still wear blue, it will be the Kentucky Wildcats, not the Kansas Jayhawks.
“They know why this team was good,” Haith said of his new contributors. “That’s what you’re hopeful that they can carry over, that they learn from their experiences of being a part of this team.”
Ross transferred to Missouri after playing two seasons at Auburn, where he led those Tigers with 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
“I call him LeBron (James),” senior guard Jarrett Sutton said. “He plays just like him. He’s physical, and he can shoot it.”
Brown, a former five-star recruit, comes in as the transfer with the most fanfare, despite having played just two games this past season for Oregon. A 6-foot-5-inch combo guard from Oakland, Brown is not eligible to play until next January but should be a mainstay in MU’s rotation.
Bell, a 6-foot-3-inch wing guard who averaged 16.4 points per game over three seasons at Pepperdine, has one year of eligibility remaining.
Sutton compared Bell to former Missouri great Rickey Paulding, citing Bell’s highflying ability and quickness.
Bell became a YouTube sensation on campus once students discovered a video of a Pepperdine dunk competition.
Feldman transferred back to his home state after one season at Columbia College in New York City. The 6-foot-9-inch forward was a two-time all-state selection for Helias High School in Jefferson City and will vie for a spot in the rotation.
“When you add those pieces with Mike, Phil and Laurence coming back, I think next year will be even better,” Sutton said.
The Tigers have two scholarships remaining to complete next year’s roster and Haith has said he would like to add an impact post player with those scholarships.
Two possibilities are former Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi and top-10 high school prospect Devonta Pollard. Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9 center, averaged 9.8 PPG and 8.7 RPG as a sophomore during the Huskies’ 2011 championship run. Pollard is the No. 2 small forward in the country, according to Rivals.com.
Rounding out the roster are five incoming freshmen: guard Domonique Bull, forwards Tony Criswell, Stefan Jankovic and Negus Webster-Chan and center Ryan Rosburg.
Another possible incoming freshman is Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s top-rated football recruit who has committed to play wide receiver for the football team.
After Green-Beckham signed his football letter of intent, Haith said he had never seen him play basketball but was aware of his talent. Haith said the decision is “up to coach (Gary) Pinkel.”
Before Haith can set down long-term roots in mid-Missouri, he must deal with the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into wrongdoing by him and his former staff at Miami alleged by former booster Nevin Shapiro, who is currently imprisoned for a $930 million Ponzi scheme he orchestrated.
Miami players Reggie Johnson, DeQuan Jones and Durand Scott were suspended for parts of this season due to allegedly accepting improper benefits.
“When you see kids get ineligible, just so you know, it doesn’t always mean the coach is involved,” said Haith, who admitted he was limited in what he was allowed to say about the investigation. “It could be a lot of different things and they (the NCAA) don’t voice whatever those things are.”
Haith’s first year at the helm of Missouri basketball was an improbable success that came to an even more improbable conclusion. Planning for year two started earlier than anticipated, but Haith has faith that it too could yield success.