COLUMBIA — Phil Pressey strolled into Missouri’s scheduled film session on Monday, oblivious to the honor that had just been bewstowed upon him.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
It would not stay that way for long, of course. Just an hour earlier, the Southeastern Conference announced its preseason men’s basketball poll and all-league teams, and MU’s junior point guard – oblivious as he was – had been named preseason player of the year.
“We went into our video film session at 3 o’clock and coach (Frank) Haith said ‘Congrats,’ and I was like ‘What?” Pressey recalled Monday night. “Then he told me I was preseason player of the year, and I was like ‘Alright, that’s (cool).’”
Particularly for a school entering its first year of competition in a new conference. While the football team has limped out to a 0-4 record in SEC play, Haith’s program was picked by the panel of media members to finish third in the 14-team league, right behind hoops powerhouses Kentucky and Florida.
Not bad, right?
“Of course,” said Pressey, when asked if it was a sign of respect. “But all the stuff they pick doesn’t mean anything. We still have to prove ourselves.”
In a way, Pressey is right. Despite losing all five starters from last year’s national championship team, Kentucky coach John Calipari’s squad – which again features several highly-regarded freshmen – received 17 of 24 first-place votes, while Florida – another hoops power – received five.
But Missouri and Tennessee, which was picked to finish fourth, each received a single vote, and Pressey – who averaged 10.3 points and 6.4 assists per game last season – received six of 23 possible first-place votes, edging out Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton, who received five.
Pressey is expected to be the leader of a Missouri team that figures to be much bigger and much deeper than last year, when the Tigers went 30-5 and won the Big 12 tournament title despite lacking size and only going seven deep.
Pressey’s selection as preseason player of the year is certainly a nod of respect toward Haith’s program, as is the fact that senior guard Michael Dixon, Jr., - who is expected to start next to Pressey in the backcourt – made the second team.
Dixon, who earned major minutes as the Tigers’ fearless sixth man last season, also received a first-place vote for preseason player of the year, which didn’t surprise Pressey.
“My last two years, we’ve been pushing each other every day in practice,” Pressey said. “I know what he’s capable of.”
Pressey seems to know what he himself is capable of as well, which is why – while flattered and certainly gracious – he wasn’t necessarily blown away that he received the preseason player of the year honor.
“Oh yeah, in back of my mind, I feel like I’m second to no one,” Pressey said. “I want to be (the player of the year) at the end of the year, not now…it’s exciting, though.”
The same can be said for most of the news surrounding Haith’s program these days. The Tigers recently secured commitments from two of its top Class of 2013 targets within the past six days, as three-star forward Torren Jones committed on Sunday, just three days after four-star forward Johnathan Williams III – ranked No. 48 in his class by Rivals.com – also committed.
Jones, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound power forward from La Porte, Ind., had offers from Arizona, California, Colorado, DePaul, Marquette, Miami (Fla.), Oregon, Texas, Washington and Washington State. He joins a four-man recruiting class that could easily grow to five if Pressey lives up to expectations this season and jumps to the pros.
But while playing in the NBA is clearly a lifelong dream for Missouri’s 5-foot-11 point guard, for now, he says his focus is solely on the 2012-2013 Tigers. And as cliché as it might sound, one can’t help but believe him, especially after last year’s team – led by NBA-bound seniors Kim English and Marcus Denmon – repeated that mantra over and over again.
“That (the NBA) is the last thing I’m worried about,” Pressey said. “The first thing I’m worried about is us winning, taking it game-by-game. That’s what the old wise man Kim English told me. Take it game-by-game and let the rest of take care of itself.”
He will begin that journey on Oct. 29, when Missouri opens its season with a home exhibition game at 7 p.m. against Northwest Missouri State.
Preseason all-SEC first team Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, Fr. F Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee, So. F BJ Young, Arkansas, So. G Kenny Boynton, Florida, Sr. G Phil Pressey, Missouri, Jr. G* *player of the year
Second team Marshawn Powell, Arkansas, Jr. F Alex Poythress, Kentucky, Fr. F Patric Young, Florida, Jr. C Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia, So. G Michael Dixon, Missouri, Sr. G
Preseason SEC media poll 1. Kentucky (17 first-place votes) 328 points 2. Florida (5) 310 3. Missouri (1) 286 4. Tennessee (1) 269 5. Arkansas 226 6. Alabama 222 7. Mississippi 186 8. Georgia 149 9. Texas A&M 122 10. Vanderbilt 120 11. LSU 116 12. Auburn 95 13. South Carolina 54 14. Mississippi State 37
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.