A leader of men: Phil Pressey takes charge

Sophomore point guard Phil Pressey is embracing his new coach’s new offense.
The Tigers basketball team practiced Thursday afternoon, preparing for the One State, One Spirit Classic against Missouri Southern State University this Sunday in Joplin. Proceeds from the game will go toward relief efforts.

He’s the smallest and youngest player that takes the floor for the Missouri men’s basketball team, but make no mistake: There is something dominant about Phil Pressey.

He was that 5-foot, 10-inch, 175-pound point guard that had Mizzou Arena ooh-ing and aah-ing last weekend before the Black & Gold Scrimmage even started. The sophomore point guard demanded the spotlight and evoked jaw drops from fans every time it was his turn in the layup line. Each time he’d launch himself off the court from both feet and do something above the rim, as if there were springs in the soles of his Nikes.

“As everyone knows, he’s a special talent,” said senior teammate Marcus Denmon, an all-Big 12 selection last season. “He’s a great point guard. As a sophomore on a senior-driven team, he does what he needs to do. He’s a worker. Every day after practice when I’m in the gym, he’s always in there with me. When it comes time for him to take over a game, he possesses those abilities to do that.”

Pressey will be the single underclassman in the starting rotation. Like any point guard, Pressey will take the inherent role of court commander, at the helm of a new-look offense that first-year coach Frank Haith brought with him from Miami.

“I like it so far,” Pressey said of the system. “It gives us guards a lot of freedom to showcase what we have. I like it because at times I can do whatever I want to do. But at the same time I structure the offense and make plays for others. That’s what I really like about it.”

Much has changed for Pressey this year, coming off a breakout freshman campaign where he led the team in assists while splitting time with guard Michael Dixon, a junior at the time. The first of those changes can be found on the sideline, where Haith replaces the spot Mike Anderson vacated.

Anderson, now coaching at the University of Arkansas, was known as “Uncle Mike” to Pressey and his brother and teammate, senior Matt Pressey. The Presseys had a relationship with Anderson throughout their lives because of the deep friendship he shared with their father, Paul. Paul and Anderson were roommates and played together at Tulsa University.

“It was a surprise when I found out (Anderson) was leaving here,” Phil Pressey said. “He was one of the main reasons why I came here. It was a business decision, though. I got over it, and I was ready to move on to this season.”

Phil Pressey said he worried about who would fill in for “Uncle Mike." Once he heard that Haith would coach, he said the decision to return to MU was an easy one.

“Once I figured out it was coach Haith, we bonded quickly and I decided to stay,” he said.

After two weeks of official team practice, both Pressey and Haith have nothing but praise for each other.

“The point guard position is hard to get,” Haith said. “It’s not easy and Phil has been terrific in terms of just buying in, learning the offense and understanding his role and being a leader that his teammates respect.”

Pressey said he is embracing the tutelage of his new coach and is flattered every time Haith likens him to T.J. Ford, the eighth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft out of Texas, where Haith was an assistant from 2001-2004.

“(Coach) puts a lot of responsibility on me,” Phil Pressey said. “I kind of like that because I’m a point guard. Point guards take responsibility. Coach Haith is a straight-forward guy. He lets you know what he wants and when he wants it. I like that about him.”

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