Mizzou basketball turns focus towards season opener

Kevin Puryear: “Mack Rhoades and Coach Anderson did a great job of clearing things up for us. We’re really glad that the situation is over with and that we can now grow as university.”

Donning gray at the podium, Missouri basketball coach Kim Anderson ran his hand past his hair, pondering what might’ve been had former University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe not resigned Monday.

He opened his press conference by speaking about the situation — not about what his team has to do to defeat Wofford, last year’s NCAA tournament 13-seed, this weekend; not about the 92-53 exhibition game win against Missouri Western last Friday; not about the plans to improve on last season’s nine-win record. Rather, Anderson’s opening statement touched on the support he provided his players amidst a history-altering moment at the university he graduated from in 1977.

“I became aware Saturday night of the situation and I communicated with one of our players who had communicated with the rest of the team,” said Anderson. “At that time, I had a talk with Mack Rhoades so on Sunday we met (as a team) and I told our guys at that time that I would support anything that they wanted to do.”

By Monday, when Anderson and his team chose to regroup and speak about assisting the Missouri football boycott, Wolfe had been fired and Jonathan Butler had ended his hunger strike.

For an underclassmen-laden team and one that’s recovering from a its worst season in almost 50 years, the unity this situation yielded was much needed, said freshman point guard Terrence Phillips.

“We know we’re all one family here at Mizzou, so you know, if one of one of us is in, we’re all going to be in,” said Phillips. “I’m not going to lie, it was a little hard mentally trying to stay focused on the upcoming game against Wofford on Friday but now I’m glad everything is resolved.”

Phillips, who made sure to point out his 88-4 high school record at Oak Hill Academy at the media availability on Tuesday, has been an advocate for the program since taking his first step in Columbia.

Against Missouri Western on Friday, with the score at 25-17, Phillips called his teammates together during a timeout.

“Come here, come here,” he demanded of his fellow Tigers. A minute later, the huddle dispersed. “They should not be in this game.”

It’s that freshman attitude prior to this year tipping off that’s made the biggest mark on the program, according to Anderson. Their leadership, their passion and their energy have allowed Mizzou’s basketball team to fixate on their goal to win each time they take the court.

“Our freshman played well and gave us some energy (against Missouri Western),” Anderson said on Tuesday. “I think these are guys, all four of them, have come in and created competition and brought some energy to our program and they’re pretty good players too. Those four guys, almost every day of practice, have come in with that extra gear which last year we didn’t really have.”

Kevin Puryear, a freshman forward from from Kansas City, chuckled when the conversation shifted from the boycott to Wofford as he was asked about that aforementioned energy.

And for him, the focus lies solely on winning as many games as possible.

“My Missouri pride weighs very heavy,” Puryear said. “I’ve been a Mizzou fan since the eighth grade so I want to represent for this state (each time I take the court).”

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