COLUMBIA | With his team slightly banged up as it prepares for its upcoming trip to Europe, Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith was eager to turn a negative into a positive Friday.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
So much so, in fact, that during a press conference - when junior point guard Phil Pressey and senior forward Laurence Bowers were each asked about their health - Haith smoothly jumped in front of the question and answered it himself.
"Phil banged knees (during a recent practice), which ended up being a blessing from my perspective - now I don't have to hear him gnaw at me," Haith joked. "The plan was to not let him play much, anyway."
Pressey's knee sprain does not appear to be serious, however. The 5-foot-10 dynamo - who is expected to Missouri's floor leader this year - said he could play if it were the regular season, a notion Haith agreed with.
Haith also said the 6-foot-8 Bowers, who is still working his way back from a knee injury that sidelined him all of last season, is "full-go." But like Pressey, he does not see the value in playing him and risking further injury.
"They both will tell you they want to play," Haith said. "But they won't (play)."
Bowers, who said his rehab has been coming along well, laughed when asked if he can still dunk a ball.
"I can dunk right now," Bowers said. "I might not get as high as I could, but I’m going to get back to that."
The five-game trip will last Aug. 8-18, and the Tigers will face teams from Rotterdam, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. They will return shortly before classes begin at Missouri on Aug. 20.
Haith expects the trip to be a learning experience for both the players and the coaches.
“We’ve got so many different parts," Haith said. "We only have three returning guys that have played here at Mizzou, and two of them aren't playing (on the trip). We’ll learn a lot about our team - that’s the big thing. We’ve seen them practice, but now we get a chance to see them compete."
Haith said that in Pressey's stead, senior guards Michael Dixon and Keion Bell will handle some of the ballhandling duties during the summer tour. Haith also reiterated that junior forward Earnest Ross - a transfer from Auburn who is naturally a small forward - will play some at the four, giving the Tigers a perimeter shooter in the mold of Kim English who can stretch the floor.
As a whole, however, Haith wasn't comfortable revealing a preliminary starting lineup.
"We’re going to play a lot of different combinations," Haith said. "We’ll utilize this time to really get to know our team."
Bowers said the 2008 team - which used a similar trip, albeit through Canada, to get ready for the season and eventually advanced to the Elite 8 - really benefited from the experience. He expects this year's group to do the same.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to do much that year, and we ended up going on a deep run through the NCAA Tournament," Bowers said. "Right now, our team bond is through the roof. If you see one of us (somewhere), you see all of us. For us to go (to Europe) and experience that together, I think it's going to make our brotherhood a lot stronger."
Haith said he has no timetable on when he will fill the open position on his staff, other than to say he hopes to do it before the season. Haith lost two of his three primary assistant coaches from last season (Ernie Nestor and Isaac Chew) to other schools, while Ryan Miller - who he hired in May - bolted after less than two months on the job for more pay and more responsibility as the top assistant under Tony Barbee at Auburn.