COLUMBIA — Stefan Jankovic cut toward the baseline, saw his path for a dunk was clear and leapt toward the rim.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
It was late in the second half of Missouri’s 91-54 win over Alcorn State on Tuesday and Jankovic — the Tigers’ lanky 6-foot-11 freshman forward — had no idea that he was about to make the Top 10 plays on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
“I didn’t think anyone was going to jump,” Jankovic said.
But someone did. And Jankovic’s one-handed slam over the defender encapsulated the reason Missouri coach Frank Haith chose not to redshirt him.
“We all know Stefan’s talent,” Haith said. “You have to look at the big picture for our team.”
Right now, Haith sees a group that is much deeper than last season but still needs help on the perimeter, particularly with the uncertain status of senior guard Michael Dixon Jr., who remains suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
That’s where Jankovic — who played post early in camp but has since been moved to the perimeter — comes in. He and freshman Negus Webster-Chan will be counted on to provide valuable minutes this season.
“He is a luxury because he is probably one of the better shooters on our team,” Haith said of Jankovic. “Even at the three spot, he makes great passes because he can see over the defense. He can skip the ball … and he can finish.”
Just like he showed on Tuesday. Jankovic punctuated the dunk with a little trash talk, for which he was assessed a technical foul.
“The PG version would probably be ‘maybe next time,’” Jankovic said with a laugh when asked what he said to the defender.
Junior point guard Phil Pressey said he’s excited to see how Jankovic, who is two for four from three-point range, can continue to help space the floor.
“He’s a 6-11 shooter so not a lot of guys can contest his shot,” Pressey said. “He’s gonna help us out a lot this year.”
But while Jankovic, who is averaging 7.5 points and three rebounds in MU’s two victories, has gained some degree of notoriety for his scoring ability — he emulates famous Serbians Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac — he knows the one area he better shore up is his defense.
As you might imagine, it’s not easy playing on the perimeter at 6-11.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s been a struggle,” said Jankovic, who moved to Canada from Serbia and played the three position in high school and on his AAU team. “(These guys) are fast — I’m 6-11 and they’re 6-4, but I’m picking it up. I tend to come up (to guard) too close, but I have a 7-2 wingspan and I tend to not use it. Coach Haith has been telling me to give them space, make them shoot (over me).”
But while Jankovic may be a work in progress defensively, there’s little doubt the coaching staff, his teammates and even Jankovic himself are encouraged by his strong start.
“I want to see how I do against stiffer competition,” Jankovic said. “But I’m really confident on the wing.”