LEXINGTON, Ky. — Former Mizzou star Kim English has plenty on his plate these days. A second-round draft pick of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, English quickly impressed general manager Joe Dumars in Summer League and eventually made the team. So he’s spent the better part of his rookie year learning and trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can in the NBA, but that hasn’t kept him from keeping a close eye on his alma mater this season. The Star caught up with English and asked him about several topics, including Phil Pressey, the ceiling for this year’s team and the strategic differences he sees being employed this year compared to last year.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS TEAM’S NCAA TOURNAMENT POTENTIAL?
KE: “I think their potential is a lot better than what they’ve shown this season. We spoiled a lot of people last year with the chemistry we had and experience we had, which goes a long way in college basketball. As a team, only one guy played for Frank Haith going into this season, and we were depending on guys that were still learning each other. It took lot of growing pains and tweaking the style of play to learn how to play and win together. They had to be a defense-first team for them to be successful.”
Q: WHAT KIND OF STRATEGIC DIFFERENCES HAS HAITH IMPLEMENTED THIS YEAR TO BETTER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HIS TALENT?
KE: “He could devise more unique and more specific defensive game plans for us because we were older and knew how to guard certain sets. They had me guarding fours last year so our defensive game plans had to be more specific. With this class, he has to do things to keep Phil out of foul trouble because we don’t have a true backup point guard, so he probably can’t be as aggressive as he wants to be. I feel like if he had a deeper team, Coach Haith would press more. But he’s an adapter, he can always find a way to adjust to what he has. To see his team playing better defense now is testament to him.”
Q: PHIL PRESSEY. I KNOW HE’S HAD SOME GREAT MOMENTS, BUT WHY DO YOU THINK HE’S HAD SOME STRUGGLES IN THE CLUTCH?
KE: “It’s crazy…our fans are so emotional and we harp on things that happen at the end of the games. But if you look at those games and imagine not having him on the court, it’s kind of laughable to harp on the miscues at the end of games. The kid has to be almost perfect for us to be in games. The offense we run is 110 percent different than what we did last year. We were a motion passing team that would end plays with ball screens for Phil. But now, Phil has the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time offensively, so he either has to have hockey assists, real assists or score the ball to get us going offensively. He’s a warrior. He’s struggled some, but who wouldn’t when depended on to do so much? I can’t think of a Tiger ever who has had so much on his shoulders.”
Q: THIS TEAM HAS TO TACKLE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT NOW. KNOWING COACH HAITH, DO YOU THINK HE MIGHT CHANGE THE WAY APPROACHES IT AFTER THE NORFOLK STATE LOSS LAST YEAR?
KE: “I don’t think anything will change. It wasn’t Coach Haith’s fault we lost last season. A team shot its best and us, as players, didn’t play the same brand of basketball we had played the past week in Kansas City. We weren’t the unselfish, defense-first team we had been. We looked at them as a team we were going to show up and beat and we tried to get ours and it bit us in the butt. Coach Haith won’t prepare any different – I’m sure he won’t.”
Q: WHAT DID COACH HAITH SAY TO YOU GUYS IN THE DAYS AFTER THE LOSS TO HELP YOU GET THROUGH IT?
KE: “It was tough. He gave us some time. I talked to him the next night and Coach Haith was there the next day and we talked and shed tears and discussed it. But we had to learn from it and move on. If Missouri basketball could somehow win a national championship this year, I’ll know the loss last year meant something. It would mean everything if Phil could, if Laurence (Bowers) could, if Coach Haith could, win something after that loss.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to email@example.com or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.