COLUMBIA — A quick admission: I enjoy awards ceremonies — and not just for the free food, either.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
I think you can learn a few things about the dynamics of a team when nervous players and coaches are handed a microphone in front of a full and friendly room after the season is over. At that point, there’s nothing really to lose, so you’ll sometimes hear some good stories. You also get an indication of how players and coaches feel about each other, based on who wins the awards.
With that said, Missouri’s men’s basketball team held its 2012-13 annual awards banquet on Monday night, and thankfully, there was no shortage of entertaining and interesting moments. I was right there for 2 ½ hours, keeping track of what was said, what was done and what awards were handed out over platefuls of chicken and mashed potatoes.
Let us begin…
The night opens with Mizzou’s play-by-play man, Mike Kelly, introducing the players. Dominique Bull and Negus Webster-Chan aren’t here, which isn’t a surprise because they recently decided to transfer. But freshman forward Stefan Jankovic isn’t here either — Kelly said he was sick — and neither is senior Keion Bell, who rather bizarrely spent the last half of his college career on the bench.
But all you conspiracy theorists can calm down. Jankovic and Webster-Chan are close, but I was assured he really was sick. And I’m told Bell is finishing his last class online and is on track to graduate, so he’s back home in LA and didn’t come back for the ceremony. Which kind of makes sense, when you consider only two players — Laurence Bowers and Ryan Rosburg — had parents who attended the event. And Rosburg’s family is from Chesterfield, Mo., so there’s that.
• OUTSTANDING STUDENT ATHLETE: Sophomore guard Jabari Brown
Presenter quote: “This young man goes to class everyday, comes to study hall every day, does what he needs to do and never complains. He has a tremendous amount of respect for and from our tutors and has an outstanding work ethic. I really enjoyed working with him.” — Tami Chievous, assistant director of academic services
My thoughts: Good for Jabari. You could tell he was proud of this award — when he stood up to walk to the stage, he did so with a sly smile.
• IRON MAN AWARD: Senior forward Laurence Bowers
Presenter quote: “It was two years ago when I met Laurence Bowers, and he was a scrawny little 205-pound, 6-7 forward who, after a few short months, got up to 220 pounds. When he suffered his knee injury, it was devastating to everybody…but then I looked in his eyes, and he told me ‘Hey Coach, I’ll be fine. I’ll get better.’ So after a few months of grueling work, he did get better. He had his best year.” — Strength coach Todor Pandov
My thoughts: Everybody knows how hard Bowers had to work to come back from the knee injury he suffered two years ago, and Pandov certainly brought it home. In case you missed it, Bowers had plenty of motivation, too.
• CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARDS: Senior forward Alex Oriakhi
Presenter quote: “On the court, he brought it this year. He was one of the most improved players in the country.” — Video coordinator Bryan Tibaldi
My thoughts: Considering Oriakhi is one of only three players in school history to finish his career with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds (joining Doug Smith and Arthur Johnson), this seems about right. Yes, he spent his first three years at UConn…but he said that when people ask him where he went to school, he’ll say Mizzou. So he gets the benefit of the doubt.
• RIM PROTECTOR: Oriakhi
Presenter quote: “He blocked 54 shots, which is good for sixth all-time in a single season for Mizzou.” — Tibaldi
My thoughts: He finished the season with 20 more blocks than the next closest guy (Bowers). So yeah.
• STAT STUFFER: Junior guard Earnest Ross
Presenter quote: “This young man was second on our team in three-point percentage … third on the team in rebounding … second on the team in steals … third on the team with assists … so (he gave us) a little bit of everything. But the biggest thing about this young man, when it comes to his game, is that physically, mentally, emotionally and otherwise, there’s such a tremendous amount left for him to give.” — Assistant coach Dave Leitao
My thoughts: Ross seemed to handle his role as sixth man pretty well, but will be counted on to do more next year. He has the physicality and mentality to serve as an ideal small forward or stretch four — he rebounds really well for a wing player — and if he continues to improve his three-point shooting and defensive awareness, I could see him having a really nice senior year.
• IMPACT PLAYER: Brown
Presenter quote: “He was one of the younger guys, but the moment never phased him. I don’t have a statistic on this, but if a team went on a run and made two, three, four baskets against us, there was one guy that was gonna break that run, and that was our guy JB.” — Leitao
My thoughts: Brown was billed as a shooter heading into the season, and he had some success, making 36.6 percent of his threes, which was third on the team behind Bowers (38.9) and Ross (37.7). The staff seemed to be pretty pleased with his play — he was essentially a redshirt freshman this season — and is looking forward to bigger things from him down the road, both offensively and defensively.
• SHARP-SHOOTER: Bowers
Presenter quote: “He was first on our team in three-point percentage and second on the team in field-goal percentage, which are gaudy numbers considering he had to play both inside and outside….but what he has between his ears and what he has in his heart, those two things are immeasurable. I’m going to miss him dearly…because of the human being his mom has raised.” — Leitao
My thoughts: Bowers won this award for leading the team in three-point percentage. He was Missouri’s best shooter, so this definitely makes sense.
At this point, Missouri coach Frank Haith is presented with an award for his charity work with the Boys and Girls Club, and is later interviewed by Kelly regarding the season. Haith repeated his standard mantra — it was a good season, considering they went 23-11 and made the tournament after piecing together a team full of transfers (no easy task, by the way). He also stated the need to get better in a number of areas, including defense and toughness.
“We’ve got to be a little nastier, a little tougher,” Haith said. “With the Midwest values we’ve got, we’ve got to get a little more of that on the basketball court.”
That said, it will be interesting to watch the on-court demeanor of the incoming freshmen (Wes Clark, Johnathan Williams III and Torren Jones). But I digress.
• PLAYMAKER: Junior guard Phil Pressey
Presenter quote: “On a game-to-game basis, I’d always tell him the mid-range pullup was wide open, you’ve got to take it. And he’d always look at me and say ‘Coach, I’ve got to get my teammates involved.’ And that he did during his career here.” — Assistant coach Rick Carter
My thoughts: There was no way anyone else was winning this award. Pressey averaged a team-best 7.1 assists per game and when he was on, he was on. His late-game shot selection was an issue, one that made me think he trusted himself more than his teammates. But he showed the ability to be a classic ball distributor last year (when there were stronger personalities around him), so if he improves his defense, strength and shooting (both inside and out) I can see him faring better in the pros than people think. But really, it’s all on him.
• MOST IMPROVED (voted on by players): Freshman guard Corey Haith
Presenter quote: “I remember the first time doing an individual workout with this player, I think during a shooting drill, and he made like three out of 10 or four of out 10 and I’m like ‘Man, this guy has a long way to go.’ And then at the end of the season, he was making eight out of 10 or nine out of 10 because he constantly persevered and put in the work.” — Carter
My thoughts: I’ll buy this. I remember getting to one game 2 ½ hours early, and I watched Carter work out Haith, Jordan Clarkson and Dominique Bull on the floor. I was surprised to see the 5-foot-10 Haith score on the 6-foot-5 Bull a few times by finishing at the rim, and he also showed off a nice jumper.
• TIGER IN CHARGE: Tony Criswell
Presenter quote: “This goes to the most selfless individual on the team, someone that’s willing to constantly give their body up for the betterment of the team. It usually happens when Phil Pressey gives up a blow-by and his man ends up in the lane and he has to rotate over. Last year, Kim English was the Tiger in Charge, and this year, that award goes to our toughest, most intense player and most selfless individual, Tony Criswell.” — Associate head coach Tim Fuller
My thoughts: For much of the season, Haith praised Criswell for doing the little things, like taking charges, and even called him their best overall post defender. Fuller banged home Criswell’s value with the funny quote above, because rotating on defense isn’t easy. Criswell is an active guy who will be counted on to play a bigger role next season.
• ULTIMATE TEAMMATE (voted on by players): Oriakhi
Presenter quote: “We talked about it on the staff all the time, (that) he probably had the most potential to lead because he had every player’s respect. He became an automatic fan favorite … against Ole Miss, he threw his fists up and I got a hundred texts with people saying ‘Man, he was going the opposite way of the fight.’ But he was a gentle giant — he’d never hurt a fly.” — Fuller
My thoughts: Sounds about right. This guy was a delight. Read my personal awards column on the right to find out why.
• MOST VALUABLE PLAYER (voted on by players): Bowers
Presenter quote: “He truly gave his entire body up for the good of the team. I remember I had a chance to have dinner with (his mom) Nancy before the season started, she said ‘Tim, I just want my baby to make it.’ Well Nancy, I’m going to tell you, he’ll do more than just make it…Laurence, you’re not just our most valuable player, but most valuable person.” — Fuller
My thoughts: Considering the coaches spent all season talking about the heavy load on Pressey’s shoulders, I thought the fact Bowers won this was interesting. Pressey was the only Tiger to be named an All-American, but his teammates voted for Bowers, who missed a portion of the season with a knee injury. His silky jumper provided spacing for the offense, and there was no doubt he was missed while he was out. He was beloved by everyone, if you couldn’t tell already.
OTHER RANDOM TIDBITS
• I noticed that one of the awards on the program was “Clutch Tiger,” which was not presented to anybody on Monday. I assumed this went to the Tiger that came up biggest in the clutch, which made that pretty funny. But I’m told it actually goes to the team’s top free-throw shooter, which was Keion Bell. So obviously it wasn’t presented because he wasn’t there. Good for him, though — I thought he deserved some award.
So the final tally goes as follows: Bowers and Oriakhi each brought home three awards, while Brown finished with two. Pressey, Ross, Haith, Bell and Criswell all had one apiece.
• Missouri finished with a 3.06 team GPA last fall, which is apparently its highest in a decade. Chievous said Bell and Oriakhi are expected to receive their bachelor’s degrees, while Bowers is working on his master’s. Chievous also expressed optimism that Pressey will get his degree from Mizzou one day.
• Random, but apparently the coaching staff spent the better part of two months doing hot yoga together in the early morning. Dead serious.
“For about six to seven weeks straight, at the start of 2013, at about 5:30 a.m. we were all trudging our way into hot yoga,” said associate coach Tim Fuller. “And it was amazing to see, we’re in 108, 109-degree weather stretching and we didn’t really know what we were doing, but it was basically bringing out staff together. It’s something we were able to carry out with our team through the tough times, that spirit of togetherness.”
It’s kind of hilarious to think about, but that’s a neat story — it shows the staff worked hard to build a bond together.
• Seniors Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers got to say a few words before the end of the evening.
Said Bowers: “It’s just a special night and hard for me to believe this is the last event I will have here in this building. There are so many great memories in this place. So many great teammates, so many great games, and I just want to thank the fans for their support over the last five years. To Coach Haith and his staff, I want to thank them for everything. This has been such an incredible experience.
“To Coach Haith, having these two years with you has been amazing. I was one of the guys that was really lost when we lost Coach Anderson. I really didn’t see the way, but when they hired you, we connected really fast. I think we have a father-son relationship, I feel like I can talk to you about anything. You helped me mature the last two years, and I’m appreciative.”
Said Oriakhi: “It was definitely a strange situation coming in, not knowing anybody but Phil and Jabari … to the coaching staff, you guys have been tremendous. The fact you guys just run a play for me, when I tell you guys I appreciate that, you guys know how much I appreciate that. You guys gave me so much confidence as an offensive player, making me actually feel like I was a good player. They made me the player I want to become.
“I definitively want to thank the Missouri fans as well. When I first said I was going to commit here, you guys welcomed me with open arms and it’s definitely been a blessing.”
Pressey wasn’t a senior, but he did get a chance to speak before the ceremony came to an end. You can find the video of his four-minute speech on the right side of this page. I think it’s worth a listen because he talks about each of his coaches and seems to be pretty happy with his Mizzou experience, despite his decision to declare for the draft earlier this week.
“Words can’t express what the University of Missouri means to me,” Pressey said. “This place is so special. The teammates, the coaches, the support staff, and the fans, this is my home. I’m on to a new chapter, but Mizzou helped shape me into the person I am today and I want to thank Coach Haith for being more than just a basketball coach to me. He was like a second father figure.”