By Tyler Kading
When the Missouri men’s basketball team hit the court for their open practice prior to the Homecoming football game on Friday, they did so with some players fans haven’t had a chance to see before.
“You can kind of see our guys’ nervous energy, which is fine,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We expected that as a staff and in some ways we wanted that so guys could get a feel for what it was like to be in the arena.”
For some of the new players, this was their first time playing in front of fans.
“All three [of the newcomers] are talented players,” Martin said.
New to the team this year is expected starting guard Dru Smith, a transfer from the University of Evansville. Smith averaged 13.7 points per game his sophomore season at Evansville before sitting out last season after transferring to Mizzou.
“It took a little bit [to adjust to Martin’s offense],” Smith said. “Where I was at, we didn’t run very many ball screen actions, and we do a lot more of that here, so it took a little bit to get used to, but I definitely like it.”
Martin also speaks highly of Mario McKinney, Jr., a freshman guard from Vashon High School in St. Louis. While Martin raved about the talent McKinney has, he was quick to point out just how far he’s come from where he started.
McKinney was ranked as the no. 1 recruit in the state of Missouri by ESPN and won three consecutive state championships in high school. A four-star recruit ranked among the top 20 point guards nationally, he had his pick of the litter when it came to schools, but chose Mizzou over high profile programs like Louisville, Auburn and Kansas State.
“When he first got in the gym, it was a lot of breaking bad habits. His margin of error was slim from the point of [that there’s] so many guards he has to beat out, but he has a high level athleticism, speed, strength, he’s strong with the ball,” Martin said. “He’s improved his shot, not that his shot was bad, but I just think in high school he could get to the rim and make plays by jumping over guys and here you have to be able to knock down a shot.”
Martin called McKinney the guy who has improved the most from the beginning of team activities, all the way back in June, to now.
“He’s real fast, and he’s growing real fast,” junior forward Jeremiah Tilmon said. “When he first got here, he was struggling a little but his game has progressed instantly. He gets in the gym way more, you can tell something’s changing because of his energy on the court and his finishing, everything has changed.”
The men’s basketball team opens the season with a non-conference game against Incarnate Ward on November 6 at Mizzou Arena. They’ll compete in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City right before Thanksgiving, taking on Butler, Stanford and Oklahoma, before SEC play starts January 4 in Lexington, Kentucky against the Wildcats.
Edited by Emma Moloney | email@example.com