Vocal leadership lacking in Missouri locker room

With a 7-14 record and last place in the SEC, the lack of leadership is evident.
Missouri head coach Kim Anderson looks on as the Tigers host Arkansas on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, at Mizzou Arena. Arkansas beat Mizzou 61-60.

Immediately after an embarrassing 20-point loss at home to Ole Miss on Saturday, the entire Missouri basketball team entered a silent locker room. January had been tough. Two wins, then seven straight losses plagued the Tigers throughout the past 31 days.

Coach Kim Anderson was sick of it.

But instead of yelling, berating, or scolding, he started a conversation. The freshmen had “hit a wall,” as he put it. His team had lost seven straight conference games, and a sense of verbal leadership was lacking within the walls of the room.

“We just don’t have that guy,” Anderson said Jan. 31, minutes after the Ole Miss loss. “The voice in the locker room, we just don’t have that on a consistent basis. It’s hard to create a leader.”

That conversation lasted a half hour. While reporters welted in the heat of the pressroom, Anderson’s locker room got a chance to cool down. Getting everything off their chests, players laid it all out.

No B.S. Just basketball.

“I just said, ‘We all need to hold each other accountable,’” senior guard Keith Shamburger said. “Just play hard.”

While Anderson has noted the leadership has been lacking on the Tigers’ team, Shamburger has tried to take that role on himself. Vocally, he encourages his teammates through adversity, sophomore guard Wes Clark said.

But it hasn’t been easy. As a transfer, Shamburger entered the Mizzou program as an outsider during his last year of eligibility. While he’s grown into the role as an emotional leader, he’s still trying to figure out how to possess that role and look out for himself simultaneously.

“As a senior, sometimes you think about stuff like making sure you don’t mess up, making sure I don’t turn the ball over, and keeping the team organized,” Shamburger said. “Once you do that, you don’t play your own game. You’re playing with your head and you’re playing with a whole bunch of other things. I’ve just got to get back to playing the game.”

Shamburger’s roommate, Wes Clark, has also delved into that role this season. Despite being a sophomore, Clark’s maturity on and off the court has made him a role model, Shamburger said.

With six freshmen on the team, the guard has accepted his role as an “older guy.”

“I’m one of the older guys and I’m a sophomore,” Clark said. “It’s only my second year, but we’re learning, just feeding off each other.”

Defining sophomores as “older guys” is indicative of how difficult this season has been for Anderson coaching such a young team. Shamburger, Clark and sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III play the most minutes on the team and seem to be leaders on the floor, but there’s still somewhat of a void in the locker room.

“None of them are really ‘rah-rah’ guys,” Anderson said. “They play hard for the most part, but that’s been one of our problems.”

At this point in the year, Mizzou is statistically out of contention for winning the Southeastern Conference. Making the NCAA Tournament is pretty much out of the question, and even an NIT run is highly unlikely.

Now, it’s about getting better. With a 7-14 record and the team sitting last place in the SEC, the need for leadership is at an all-time high. Salvaging the season isn’t the big picture goal.

Anderson said it’s about building a program.

Shamburger knows this. He says he wants to make February a great month. He says his Tigers need to go “balls to the wall” in March. He says he’s talking to younger guys, encouraging them to stick with it.

It’s not easy being on a 7-14 team. But a year from now, with an emerging group of confident sophomores, Shamburger thinks all this will pay off.

“I just tell them to keep working because they have a lot of talent in them,” the senior said. “I tell them to keep working because when I come back, I know it will be a ranked program.”

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