COLUMBIA — With Missouri’s basketball season over, and senior starters Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers and Keion Bell out of eligibility, it’s time to look to 2013-14, which is shaping up to be pivotal for coach Frank Haith
After two years in which Haith reached tremendous highs and lows, next season’s team could be his first at Missouri with a roster of only players he has recruited, a good measuring stick to judge basketball coaches.
But whether Haith will be measured that way is up in the air. It’s unclear if junior Phil Pressey, who was recruited to Missouri by former coach Mike Anderson, will turn pro.
Though Pressey, a 5-foot-11 point guard who averaged 11.9 points and 7.1 assists per game, was a lightning rod for criticism by MU fans because of his penchant for quick shots and turnovers, there’s little doubt that he will seriously explore entering the NBA Draft in June.
Players have until April 28 to declare, but they must withdraw by April 16 to return to college.
When asked about his future Thursday night after the Tigers’ loss to Colorado State in their NCAA Tournament opener, Pressey said he wasn’t sure when he would make a decision about the NBA. He was then asked how hungry he was to come back for his senior year after three opening-game NCAA exits in his career with the Tigers.
“It makes you just want to go back to the drawing board and get back in the gym,” Pressey said. “You can only dwell on this loss for so long until you want to get back in the gym and get better and look forward to next season.”
In a recent interview, Pressey’s father — Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Paul Pressey — was adamant that no decisions had been made about his son’s future.
“What that will be,” Paul Pressey said sternly, “I don’t know.”
Matt Pressey, Phil’s older brother and a former Tiger, said the same in a recent interview.
“He’s in no rush,” Matt said of Phil. “It’s all about timing, I can tell you that.”
Yet, Pressey, 22, might decide the time is right for him to go. Though he’s currently projected to go in the second round by ESPN’s Chad Ford, the 2014 NBA Draft is widely expected to be strong, so Pressey might not improve his standing by returning to MU.
And while Pressey has had his share of struggles this season — shot selection and a rising turnover rate among them — Paul cited his son’s heavy minutes and increased ballhandling responsibilities for some of the problems. Paul has previously stated a belief that Phil will be a better pro than college player because the NBA game is a little more wide open.
“I’m glad he’s going through these things, because like I said, at the end of the day, as he moves along his career — and (hopefully) God blesses him to get the next level — he will be a better player because he’ll have better skill players on a different level around him where he doesn’t have to be the primary ball handler,” Paul Pressey said. “San Antonio has three or four of them, Oklahoma City has three or four of them. They’ve got guys that can release each other.”
Should Pressey leave for the NBA, the Tigers likely will have a number of guards share ballhandling responsibilities next season. At the forefront will be junior Jordan Clarkson, a 6-foot-5 combo guard who will be eligible after sitting out due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. As a sophomore at Tulsa, Clarkson led the team with 16.5 points per game while averaging 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists as a lead guard.
Haith can also turn to four-star incoming freshman Wes Clark, a 6-foot point guard from Michigan who led Romulus High School to a 27-1 record and its first state title in 27 years this season. Clark is rated by Rivals.com as the nation’s 71st-best player and was a fast riser in the recruiting ranks due to his strong play last summer.
“Wes is the ultimate competitor,” Haith said when Clark signed his letter of intent in November. “He is one of those point guards that won’t give you an inch. He is all about winning and did it at a high level in a very good basketball state, Michigan.”
Should Haith choose not to hand over his team to a freshman immediately, Clarkson could start at the point and be joined by two experienced guards — junior Jabari Brown, who averaged 13.7 points, and senior Earnest Ross, who averaged 10.3 — in the backcourt. Ross also played at the four-spot this season and could do the same if Pressey returns.
Sophomores Negus Webster-Chan and Dominique Bull would conceivably add to the team’s perimeter depth, though it’s unclear how much either will contribute next season because of the guards in front of them.
Stefan Jankovic, a 6-11 forward, saw his playing time dwindle as his freshman season went on, but showed flashes of being a dangerous offensive player on the perimeter. He should return after a full offseason under strength coach Todor Pandov with more muscle packed on his 230-pound frame and challenge for the starting four-spot next to 6-9 senior Tony Criswell, who is developing into a solid post defender and has the inside track at the starting center position.
Should Jankovic and Criswell prove to be the best frontcourt options, MU’s starting lineup would feature four capable three-point shooters and a decent pick-and-roll option in Criswell, which could allow Haith to return to the four-out, one-in offense the Tigers rode to a 30-5 record in 2011-12 but largely scrapped this season to better take advantage of different talent.
Still, several more players will figure into the frontcourt mix, including 6-10 sophomore Ryan Rosburg, who earned more playing time than Jankovic while serving as Oriakhi’s backup this season, and incoming 6-9 swing forward Johnathan Williams III, the No. 50 player in the country according to Rivals who led Memphis Southwind High to a state championship and is regarded as an athletic player who can crash the boards and potentially defend the rim.
“His size and skill-set are unique and he can present mismatch problems for opponents,” Haith said in November. “He is smooth on the perimeter and is long and active and really has a great feel for how to attack his opponent and keep his teammates involved.”
Two more incoming MU players are four-star prospect Keanau Post, a 6-foot-11, 260-pound center who’s transferring from Southwestern Illinois Community College, and three-star forward Torren Jones. They will give the Tigers plenty of size and options down low, a potential boon whether Pressey returns or not, though that’s a question that certainly figures to linger until the April 16 deadline.
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