When freshman forward Willie Jackson decided to leave the Missouri men’s basketball team during a visit home for Christmas break, it prompted speculation freshman guard Frankie Hughes also might be headed out the Mizzou Arena door.
Hughes and Jackson were teammates at Garfield Heights High in Cleveland.
Jackson, who signed with the Tigers in November 2015, was instrumental in recruiting Hughes to Columbia.
Initially, Hughes, who was not made available to the media Tuesday, had signed with Louisville, so it made sense that one’s decision might influence the other’s choice.
Mizzou players said Tuesday there’s no doubting Hughes’ commitment.
“Absolutely, I think Frankie has always been 100 percent with this team,” junior forward Jordan Barnett said. “He went through some personal problems. He talked with his family and all that, we’ve talked to him and he’s 100 percent with this team. I’m glad to have him back — outstanding player, really good shooting stroke and he’s really going to help this team offensively down the road.”
Third-year coach Kim Anderson benched Hughes for the Lipscomb game Thursday after he returned late from Christmas break and missed several practices, but Anderson said Monday that Hughes would play in the Tigers’ conference opener against LSU on Wednesday.
“I talked to Frankie and he told me he wanted to be here,” freshman forward Mitchell Smith said. “That’s why he committed here. Frankie has a great attitude at practice and everything, so I think he’s going to stay.”
Jackson’s departure, the latest in a long line of player defections under Anderson, caught his Mizzou teammates off guard.
“Of course we don’t want to lose any guys, because, when the guys come that’s like your new family,” said sophomore forward Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate. “Those are the guys you go to battle with, so it’s upsetting to see them leave. But, at the same time, everybody has to do what’s best for them.”
While Jackson’s departure was surprising, it wasn’t crippling to the team’s psyche.
“We’ve just got to keep going and, at the end of the day, the guys that want to be here are going to be here,” sophomore guard Terrence Phillips said. “Willie’s still my friend at the end of the day, but the guys in the locker room are the guys we’re going to roll with.”
Fellow sophomore guard K.J. Walton agreed.
“We’re all still brothers,” he said. “We’re all still together. We just take it one practice at a time and one game at a time. We’re always looking forward, never behind, and it’s a good vibe.”
MU (5-7) play host to LSU at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia with one primary goal in mind.
“We better figure out a way to control … (LSU sophomore guard) Antonio Blakeney,” Anderson said. “He’s a young man who’s very talented and obviously can score the basketball in a variety of different ways.”