Winning became the most important thing for Kevin Puryear as a senior at Blue Springs South.
He reached the pinnacle of winning when the Jaguars captured their first Missouri Class 5 state championship in March and were led by Puryear, who averaged 20.1 points and 7.8 rebounds. He was also selected as The Star’s All-Metro player of the year.
His next challenge will be to continue those winning ways at Missouri, which only won nine games and set program records for most losses (23) and longest losing streak (13) last season in coach Kim Anderson’s first year on the job.
Two weeks into his Tigers’ career, Puryear is positive things will be different.
“This team is capable of doing big things,” said Puryear, who also won the DiRenna Award as Kansas City’s top high school player last season. “All of us may not quite know it yet, but I believe. And I know that later on down the line, we’re going to have a really good team. I just want to be a unit, be together and be a family. That goes a long way on the court.”
It’s early, so Puryear is still adjusting to college both on and off the court, but he’s committed to restoring the Tigers’ collective roar.
“It’s going very smooth,” Puryear said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be here and I’m very happy to be here. I’m really excited to make history with this team ... I’d be lying to you if I said every day went the way I wanted it to go, but being an incoming freshman, there’s going to be good days and bad days.
“Some days are real tough, but the older guys have done a good job of taking me under their wing, showing me the ropes and keeping me encouraged. My confidence stays high because of them, so it’s been an exciting two weeks for me.”
Puryear said he’s never been surrounded by as much talent on a single team, and he can sense how important it is — especially for the returning players — that Missouri makes strides in Anderson’s second season.
“Everybody, they’re really excited to redeem themselves,” Puryear said. “(Sophomore shooting guard) Namon (Wright), before I came here and moved in and stuff, was texting me and telling me we need new energy around here.”
Puryear and the other three freshman certainly have brought that, Anderson said.
“These guys are doing a great job in the weight room, which I could not say that a year ago,” Anderson said. “I don’t think (strength coach) Matt (Herring) would say that a year ago.”
Puryear is one of the energetic young players leading that charge. He will be asked primarily to play at the four despite being a bit undersized there at 6 feet 7 and 225 pounds.
“I play a stretch four,” Puryear said. “I have the capabilities of putting it on the floor. I can shoot it as well, but I just need to be a banger down there and get rebounds, whatever the team needs me to do to win.”
Already, teammates have taken note of the toughness he brings in the paint, something Missouri needed more of last season.
“He works hard, he’s physical and he doesn’t back down,” sophomore forward Jakeenan Gant said. “He doesn’t back down from anybody. That’s what I like about him.”
Puryear — a three-star recruit, according to Rivals and 247 Sports, who also had offers from Creighton, Mississippi, Oklahoma State and Nebraska among others — has been putting up 400 to 500 extra shots a few times each week since arriving at MU.
“I love Kevin,” Anderson said. “He’s one of those guys that I think he’s really got a lot of potential. He’s got that energy. What you saw in high school is what I’m seeing here, a guy who might be a little undersized but makes up with his determination.”