Jabari Brown shot an air ball, and the opposing fans were not going to let him forget it.
In Missouri’s worst loss so far this season, an 82-53 defeat Saturday at No. 8 Florida, the sophomore shooting guard struggled early and failed to jumpstart the Tigers’ stagnant offense. After Brown faced pressure from the defense and forced his shot, the Florida crowd yelled “air ball” every time he had a chance to score, but Brown said the hecklers were of no concern to him.
“That don’t bother me,” Brown said. “Fans are always going to say that when you air ball a shot. It happens.”
Before the season, Brown was just another prospect in coach Frank Haith’s highly touted transfer class. Since becoming eligible to play for the Tigers on Dec. 14, Brown has become one of the team’s primary scoring threats, largely due to Haith’s confidence in Brown’s ability to be more than just a 3-point shooting threat.
"We need him to continue to drive the ball because people are going to try and run him off the 3-point line,” Haith said after Brown scored a career-high 22 points against Alabama on Jan. 8. “You have to have that playing this game.”
Brown’s path to Missouri began in California, where he was a five-star recruit in Oakland. He originally committed to play at Oregon, but after only playing in two games last season, he made the decision to transfer to Missouri.
Due to the circumstances of his transfer, Brown, following NCAA rules, had to sit out every game played during the first semester . He debuted against South Carolina State on Dec. 18 and has played in half of the Tigers’ 18 games this season. Following Michael Dixon’s departure from the team in November, Brown’s possible role with the team began to evolve and has only grown more this season because of the injuries Missouri has faced.
Since Missouri’s leading scorer, senior forward Laurence Bowers, sprained his knee in the game against Alabama, Brown has been playing more minutes but has seen mixed results. After hitting a career-high five consecutive 3-pointers on Jan. 8, Brown has been hot and cold with his shot as the seasons progressed.
In the Tigers’ two losses this month, Brown has shot a combined six of 18 from behind the 3-point line and has struggled from the field as well, missing his first three shots in the loss to Ole Miss and his first six shots against Florida . In both games, Missouri fell behind early and was unable to gain momentum after its slow start.
Even when his shots aren’t falling at will, Brown has been able to continue getting to the basket. After nine games this season, Brown is averaging 14.4 points per game, putting him second on the team to Bowers.
"I feel like I can do those things,” Brown said after his career-high game. “I feel like it's just what the team needs. If I have open shots, I'm always going to take the open shot because that's what the offense needs, but if they're closing hard, I can make a play.”
Brown, along with junior guard Phil Pressey, have been the consistent tandem in the Tigers’ backcourt, with Pressey relying on Brown as one of the team’s key offensive options. Despite the fact that the two players have only been able to work together in games recently, Pressey said they have “clicked” well as of late.
“(Jabari) really plays well on his own, that’s how good of a player he is,” Pressey said. “I can get him his open looks but other than that he pretty much plays well regardless. If he plays bad, it’s usually on himself.”
While Brown is regarded by scouts as a perimeter threat, his teammates maintain he has talent as an all-around scorer and will continue to improve as the season continues. Senior forward Alex Oriakhi, also a member of Haith’s transfer class, said Brown has done a tremendous job given his lack of experience.
“(Jabari) is that shooter that we need,” Oriakhi said. “People don’t really know that he’s able to attack the (basket) as well. People always think he’s a standstill shooter. I think he’s an overall scorer. He’s able to get to the rack and able to hit the 3-point shot and the mid-range. He’s a scorer.”
Despite the changes he’s faced and the challenges he’s had in his second full season, Brown said he won’t let one game or one performance distract him from improving.
“Just keep staying in the gym, and get back to a winning track,” Brown said. “You can’t let one game get in your head and start to affect you. If you do that, then it’s going to carry over to the next game and the next game. You just have to have a short memory.”