Tigers basketball look to 2016 after troubled season


MARCH 2015 – The signs were ominous at Missouri. After missing the 2014 NCAA tournament and bounced from the NIT in the second round at home by Southern Mississippi, then seeing head coach Frank Haith resign while losing a high-scoring trio of guards to graduation and the NBA, there was still a sense of optimism in the air in Columbia entering this basketball season.

Tigers basketball had a very strong recruiting class and brought back beloved alumnus Kim Anderson to coach.

While athletic director Mike Alden and chancellor Bowen Loftin praised Anderson upon luring him back to Missouri, the Tigers have struggled mightily this season, finishing last in the SEC.

The season’s high point was an upset in late February over Florida to snap a school-record 13-game losing streak.  Mizzou has just one victory against a team with an RPI top 50 ranking, and just three against top 100 teams. They began the season with a loss to UMKC.

The Tigers have struggled to find any rhythm, as only sophomore Johnathan Williams III and senior transfer Keith Shamburger have been able to stay in the lineup and consistently produce.

Injuries have played a role as sophomore point guard Wes Clark was lost for the season after a dislocated right elbow against South Carolina on February 10.

However, off-court issues have had a larger effect.

Baylor transfer Deuce Bello missed six games at mid-season after being suspended for academic issues.  After returning, the 6-4 junior shooting guard saw his role significantly reduced and scored just nine points in the next nine games.

surplusexchange.orgMeanwhile, the vaunted freshman class has spent almost as much time in court as on the court.  Out of the six freshmen on this year’s team, only walk-on forward Hayden Barnard has not missed time due to suspension.

Shortly after sophomore forward Torren Jones was dismissed from the team for “an unspecified violation of team rules,” four-star recruit Jakeenan Gant and three-star recruit D’Angelo Allen were arrested for their alleged involvement in a September assault.  Both forwards were suspended, although the suspensions were lifted prior to the first game of the regular season.

The off-court troubles didn’t end there for the 6-8 Gant, who was ranked by Rivals as the 52nd recruit overall of the 2014 class.  He missed the first nine games of the season while the school investigated questions about his eligibility, first suiting up for the December 13 loss to Xavier.  Expected to be a scoring leader, Gant has cracked double-digits just three times while averaging 5.2 points per game.

The 6-7 Allen has yet to establish himself as either a scorer or a rebounder, averaging just 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds in 17 minutes of playing time per game.

Montaque “Teki” Gill-Caesar came to Mizzou with one of the best pedigrees of any NCAA recruit.  Gill-Caesar, a 6-6 Canadian shooting guard, was ranked as No. 24 recruit in the Class of 2015. He jumped into the Tigers freshman class a year early after having nothing left to prove in high school.

Gill-Caesar quickly became one of Mizzou’s most dangerous offensive threats.  He led the Tigers with 21 points and seven rebounds in their season-opening loss to UMKC and reached double-figures in scoring in eight of his first 12 games.

Unfortunately, just as he got rolling, Gill-Caesar suffered a sprained left ankle and also missed the first three conference games due to back spasms.  Like the rest of the freshman class he also ended up on suspension.

Gill-Caesar and 6-5 guard Namon Wright each missed a pair of games in the middle of the conference season after violating team rules. Prior to his breakout game against Florida in which he hit 6-of-8 three-pointers on the way to a 28-point performance, Wright had given only an occasional glimpse of the talent which earned him four-star recruiting status and a 73rd overall ranking by Rivals.

Three-star prospect Tramaine Isabell, who was expected to share point-guard duty with Clark, gradually found himself relegated to the bench, then suspended for four games in February “because of behavior toward teammates and coaches that Anderson described as ‘at times unacceptable.’ ”

It has been a constant uphill battle for Anderson to corral the young Tiger talent.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us and that work starts today,” Anderson said in a statement announcing his hiring.  “As a Missourian I embrace this challenge and look forward to bringing championship basketball back to Norm Stewart Court and Mizzou Arena.”

Looking up from the bottom of the SEC standings while reviewing the off-court problems of his freshman class, Anderson could be excused for wondering if this “challenge” can ever be conquered.  He couldn’t be blamed for looking ahead to next season when these five young Tigers may have developed some maturity, and Anderson will also begin bringing in his own recruits.

Three prospects committed to Mizzou for next season, led by Blue Springs 6-7 power forward, Kevin Puryear, who averaged 19.2 points and 8.6 rebounds as a junior. He, also, had offers from Oklahoma State, Creighton, San Diego, Miami (Ohio), Mississippi and Nebraska.  Anderson also landed another in-state recruit – 6-4 shooting guard Cullen VanLeer from Pacific. Terrance Phillips, a 5-10 point guard from Oak Hill (Virginia) Academy, also committed to Missouri.

It’s been a dismal year on the hardwood for the Tigers, but if Anderson can herd these young Tigers, things could again be looking up in Columbia. Anything will be up after this gloomy year.

Article by Marc Bowman

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