Freshmen looked to produce once again

Kevin Puryear: “I have to be ready to play. There’s no excuses. I gotta be ready to play whenever.”

Last year, coach Kim Anderson and the Missouri men’s basketball season finished the season with a cringe-worthy record of 9-23 — the worst the Tigers have seen in over 50 years.

Mizzou saw hopes of a better future fade during the offseason with the transfers of forward Johnathan Williams III and guard Montaque Gill-Caesar, the team’s leading scorers.

An already-young team during its 2014-15 campaign, Mizzou consisted of five true freshmen last season. This year, the Tigers will again need to rebuild, relying on some new youngsters and refusing to settle for another 0.391 record.

“The dynamics of this team are different than the one from a year ago,” Anderson said during a media availability event earlier this month. “I think they have a little bit better comfort zone with what we want, what we expect. I think I know them a little better. They know me a little better.”

The 2015 recruiting class saw the additions of four freshmen on scholarship: Guards K.J. Walton, Cullen Vanleer and Terrence Phillips, along with forward Kevin Puryear.

In his preseason press conference, after about a week of practice, Anderson said Puryear is the newcomer who has “done the best,” citing his strength, despite Puryear being undersized for his position.

“My physicality will for sure help me a lot,” Puryear said. “I’m a physical player. I like contact, I don’t shy away from it. I think that’s going to help me a lot, especially with the (Southeastern Conference) being a big, athletic, strong conference.”

The 6-foot-7, 236-pound Blue Springs, Missouri, native got a bit of a wake-up call his senior year when assistant coach Brad Loos dialed his phone number.

“Your learning curve is getting shorter and shorter,” Loos told him.

Puryear took it to heart.

“I have to be ready to play,” he said earlier this month. “There’s no excuses. I gotta be ready to play whenever.”

Puryear and this year’s Tigers forwards will need to step up and perform after Williams’ departure.

“I think Kevin’s going to bring a lot this year,” senior forward Ryan Rosburg said. “I think that when he got here, like all freshmen, he was a little timid and afraid to take his shots, but now he’s playing with a lot confidence and is going to bringing a lot of energy to the front court. I’m excited about that.”

The point guard position is sure to become a heated competition this season. With junior Wes Clark and sophomore Tramaine Isabell returning, Phillips won’t have it easy on the road to a starting position.

Phillips has been primed for Division I action by one of the best basketball preparatory schools in the country, Oak Hill Academy, where he led his team to the national championship game and a 47-1 record as a starter last season. But the 5-foot-11 newcomer is taking nothing for granted.

“We’re competing (for the point guard position), and the goal with me is I would like to start,” Phillips said. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I come off the bench or whatever it is. Whatever I can do to help this team win, that’s what I’m ready to do. I just really want to win.”

A passing fiend from top to bottom, Phillips’ 8.7-assist-per-game average as a high school senior was good enough to break Oak Hill’s career assist record.

Over the summer, Phillips took to the big stage early, playing in the Drew League, a Los Angeles-based league that mixes amateur ballers with professionals.

“I guarded (Houston Rockets point guard) James Harden for, I think, two possessions, and I made him pass the ball, so for me, that’s a success right there in itself,” Phillips said. “I sat there courtside and watched (Golden State Warriors shooting guard) Klay Thompson and James Harden. It was just a summer league game that meant nothing to them, but they competed the entire game — they just wanted to win. That’s what I’ve taken from that summer until now: Just learning to compete every play, every possession, every day; and working hard as we go through this process.”

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