Talented but unproven: the three-word phrase sums up coach Frank Haith’s basketball squad as he enters his third season with the Tigers.
The Tigers return a lineup filled with potential, but the team has suffered the losses of 2012 stars Laurence Bowers, Phil Pressey and Alex Oriakhi.
Succeeding Pressey at the point is the tandem of junior Jordan Clarkson and freshman Wes Clark. Clarkson joins the Tigers starting five after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. He had averaged 16.5 points his sophomore year at Tulsa, but Haith believes Clarkson’s greatest strength may be on defense.
“He’s by far our best defender,” Haith said. “He’s really good on and off the ball, he has great instincts, he runs down loose balls. That is a great quality to have, as your point guard, and as a defender. A guy (like that) who is at the front line of your defense, it starts with him.”
Clark, on the other hand, is a freshman from Michigan who was a top-100 player in high school and is expected to see a lot of time at floor general this season, Haith said.
Seniors Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross round out the talented Tigers backcourt as both are expected to be the team’s main leaders both on and off the court. Ross averaged 10.3 points per game last season after transferring from Auburn and should be one of the Tigers’ leading scorers. Brown, along with a few of the upperclassmen have been some of the players who have stepped up their leadership roles with the departure of Pressey and Oriakhi.
“I feel like we all have to step up and be leaders for this team,” Clarkson said. “We have a lot of young guys and we are a young team, but they have to listen to us and they'll follow us."
Maybe the biggest question going into this season is how the Tigers will replace the void left by Oriakhi in the frontcourt. Now playing professionally in Europe, Oriakhi was one of the Tigers best players last year averaging 11.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
“The thing that Alex gave us that we really have to find is his ability to rebound in traffic,” Haith said.
The Tigers frontcourt is led this season by senior Tony Criswell along with sophomores Stefan Jankovic and Ryan Rosburg. While Criswell is expected to see the most minutes of the three, Haith made it a priority to emphasize how much Rosburg has improved over the summer.
“He had a great summer, he had a great fall, he’s made great strides and I anticipate him to give us some really good minutes this season,” Haith said.
Newcomers Keanau Post and Johnathan Williams III should also see time in the Tigers frontcourt as both come to Missouri after having incredibly successful careers in junior college and high school. Williams was the Tigers top recruit in their top-20 recruiting class and should see time in the Tigers rotation this season.
The Tigers have a very demanding schedule this season with teams like UCLA, Illinois, North Carolina State and West Virginia on their out-conference slate with a home game against Kentucky as the main highlight of the Southeastern Conference schedule.