Kevin Puryear has emerged as Missouri basketball’s most consistent player

Coach Kim Anderson called the freshmen “a core group of our program.” And in ample terms, the core of the group is Kevin Puryear.
Forward Kevin Puryear (24) blocks the shot of Maryland-Eastern Shore guard Ryan Andino (0) during the basketball game on Nov. 15 at Mizzou Arena.

There came a time when Vicki Puryear wasn’t sure Missouri was the right fit for her son. The school had yet to offer, Kim Anderson had just been hired and Kevin Puryear had other official visits scheduled.

Still, though, Kevin remained adamant that the school he’d grown to love since watching No. 4 Missouri beat No. 6 Baylor on the back of 14 three-pointers in 2012 was the one for him.

And sure enough, while attending a volleyball game during his senior year of high school, the Puryear family met with Anderson, and “the rest is history,” Vicki said in an interview over the phone.

It’s funny Vicki mentioned history, too, because as Missouri basketball spokesman Patrick Crawford pointed out last week, Kevin became the sixth-fastest player in school history to score 200 points.

That’s the impact the 6-foot-7, crafty left-hander has had on Mizzou thus far in his career. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 11.5 per game — good enough for fourth-best among freshman in the Southeastern Conference. Not to mention he also leads the Tigers in rebounds averaging 4.7 per game. This is a player that 247sports.com ranked 347th in his class — lower than the combined rankings freshman guards KJ Walton and Terrence Phillips — yet the production doesn’t surprise Vicki in the slightest.

“I knew coming in that his goal was never to start for MU, but his goal was to come in and make an impact — which I thought was really mature of him,” she said. “So when it came to the first game and I saw that he was starting, that kind of shocked me and that kind of scared me at the same time because it’s a lot for a freshman to come in and do well in the SEC. But with his performance and his impact in the game, it didn’t surprise me because I’ve seen him in action.”

Vicki said she’s a gym rat. She attends the games her son plays at Mizzou Arena, and then she goes home and watches them once more.

That’s what inspired her comment to Kevin prior to the Auburn game Jan. 9 to play with more intensity. After watching Missouri fall to Georgia 77-59 on the road, she went back to watch the year’s first game against Wofford.

“I probably am one of his worst critics,” Vicki said. “I’m a soft place for him to fall but he also knows he’s going to get the straight from me. So when I see him operate beneath his ability or not doing something simple like running the floor quickly, I’m going to let him know.”

It’s that mindset that’s given him the work ethic that his both his high school coach at Blue Springs South and AAU coach with KC Run GMC coaches point to as to what differentiates the freshman forward.

In Monday’s media availability, Anderson called the freshmen class “a core group of our program.” And the core of the group is Kevin.

The Turning Point

Jimmy Cain, Puryear’s high school coach, can remember when his sixth man turned the corner in 2012.

Against Fort Osage High School in the sectional tournament of Puryear’s high school freshman year, Puryear scored 15 points in the third quarter to catapult his team to victory when his team needed it most.

“It was explosive,” Cain said. “That moment was kind of his breakout moment that put him on everybody’s radar real quick.”

Even with his offers from schools like Nebraska, Oklahoma State and others by the time he was a senior, he was by no means highly-ranked by any service or recruiting website.

Vicki said that didn’t bother him.

In the realm of recruiting in this day and age, kids long to appear on “top 150 prospects” lists. College coaches can view them, AAU coaches study them and kids can get caught up in them. For Puryear, though, they meant nothing but motivation.

“When he was a freshman, we realized there’s this list and if you’re on this list, you’re really doing something,” Vicki said. “But then, we realized there were times that not all the kids on that list are necessarily great basketball players. That list means nothing; it means nothing. And honestly, it fueled him It gave him that extra ‘umph’ and work hard to prove someone wrong, whoever that may be. And he did, and it worked out for him.”

It was his work ethic that made that work. Instilled by his parents and influenced by those around him, Puryear has a knack for outworking his competition.

LJ Goolsby, who was Puryear’s AAU coach, attested to this, saying: “Outside of getting in the gym on his own, which is something he does a great deal of, it’s how hard he works while he’s there. He gives 110 percent, is going to battle and works his tail off in practice and that’s why it’s so great to be around him.”

Self-driven

Puryear hates to lose. That’s one of the concerns Vicki had in sending her son to Columbia, Missouri.

Having won over a hundred games playing at Blue Springs South and with KC Run GMC, the thought of him heading into an environment of rebuilding situation daunting. Thus far, though, it has yet to hinder his passion, his drive or his leadership ability.

On that, Cain shared a story during Kevin’s senior year.

“I think the best story of his leadership and desire to win was when we started the season last year 20-0 and we lost two of the next four,” Cain said. “A few guys were getting onto (Kevin) because he was constantly on him like a coach, and he was literally was in tears and told the guys, ‘I know that, I know I’m on everybody and overboard, but I feel like we’ve come up short my first three years here, and I don’t want to see that happen again.’ And from that point on, the team was as motivated and as focused as ever.”

At Missouri, it’s been different for Puryear. Although Vicki’s concerns have been apparent, Goolsby believes it’s a source of pride for Kevin on a daily basis.

“Hopefully, from an individual standpoint, he can help Missouri get back on a winning track,” Goolsby said. “I know that’s something that he’d want to do, is to be a guy who's known to help them turn the corner and help them get back to the winning ways. I think that’d be something that Kevin would be very honored to be a part of.”

Ultimately, it’s the pride that Puryear takes in his university that drives him.

“As a parent, you just want your son to be where he’s happy,” Vicki said. “I know that, with all the adversity this team is going through, if Kevin was at a place where he wasn’t happy it would just make it more difficult and I have peace knowing that’s where he we wants to be.”

The Missouri Tigers are 8-11 overall and 1-5 in conference play, something that Puryear shakes his head at in media availabilities week-in and week-out.

Why? Because “he’s an angry loser and a fierce competitor,” Vicki says. “And although he’s dealt with losing, I still don’t think he’s used to it, and I don’t think he ever wants to get used to it.”

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