Notebook: Players praise Dru Smith for on-court leadership

Mitchell Smith and Torrence Watson also talked about improving their leadership skills this offseason.

When news broke October 2018 that Evansville had denied redshirt junior guard Dru Smith a transfer waiver to play at Missouri, tensions ran high.

Smith, however, said he didn’t spend much time thinking about it.

“As soon as the ruling came out I was kind of over it,” he said during a media session Friday.

Now preparing for his first season on the court with Missouri, Smith’s impact is already being felt by his teammates.

“[Smith] always leads by example,” sophomore Torrence Watson said. “I think he does a whole lot more leading by example than he does talking. Coach [Cuonzo Martin] really never has to say his name. I mean, I’m not gonna say he’s a perfect player but he’s about as close as I’ve seen to it.”

Sophomore Javon Pickett also praised Smith’s leadership ability and his skill.

“[Smith], he’s a solid defender,” Pickett said. “His scoring is very good, but he also knows how to find his teammates. So I really like that about [Smith]. Always keeping his head up.”

Although Smith said he feels like he’s been waiting “much longer” than a year to get back on the court in front of a crowd, he also sees the value in the time he spent watching the team last season.

“I think [the team] did a great job last year,” Smith said. “I think maybe, the only thing I’d want to try to bring is a calming presence or like, a sense of experience.”

Experience is not something Smith lacks. He’s one of five Division I players in the past 20 years to have played more than 500 minutes, shoot at least 55% from the field, 45% from behind the arc and 85% from the free-throw line all in one season.

“I just try to be as efficient as possible,” Smith said. “Make the right plays.”

Learning to be leaders

Redshirt junior Mitchell Smith represented the team at the 2019 SEC Student-Athlete Leadership Council in June. He said he’s embraced the new leadership role he’s stepping into, despite it being a new experience.

“I have never really been in that role, but I’ve taken it on with just a lot of confidence,” Mitchell Smith said. “Coach Martin has been talking to me a lot, sending me quotes and stuff just to be a better leader.”

Mitchell Smith said one speaker from the conference stuck with him the most, and he brought that story back to the team.

“It didn’t really matter where you come from [because] all of our backgrounds are different, but when we come together and become a team we use all different aspects of everybody’s life and become a team,” Mitchell Smith said.

Watson, who played a prominent role on the court near the end of last season, said he’s also working on his leadership abilities in the offseason.

“Last year we had [Jordan] Geist [and] Kevin Puryear,” Watson said. “Those guys really stepped up and took us under their wings and kind of showed us the ropes and everything as freshmen. Me, Javon [Pickett] and [Xavier Pinson] being freshmen and learning so much, I think that we can really help the freshmen from this year. It’s fresh for us.”

New freshmen impress teammates

This year’s roster adds three freshmen: Tray Jackson, Mario McKinney Jr. and Kobe Brown.

The trio of four-star recruits has a number of accolades among them, including McKinney’s Missouri all-state team recognition and Brown’s nomination for Alabama Class 6A Player of the Year in his senior year.

“[McKinney’s] doing a pretty good job,” Pickett said. “He’s still learning, but he’s doing a great job getting his body right, making sure he’s in the gym.”

Watson believes all three will become valuable assets to the team early on in the season.

“I think these guys have good potential of being really good freshmen right away.”

Edited by Maureen Dunne | mdunne@themaneater.com

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