In an ugly 12-point loss last weekend at Mississippi State, at least one play made Missouri junior guard Cullen VanLeer’s father feel good.
VanLeer drove down the lane, sidestepped a defender and laid the ball off the glass with his left hand.
“That was the kid I saw play in high school,” said his dad, John VanLeer, head basketball coach at Pacific (Mo.) High School. “Doing more than just a shooter, attacking the basket.”
Even after two-plus seasons at MU, during which his teams have lost plenty and he has struggled to shoot the ball, Cullen VanLeer would never admit to having a bruised confidence or playing with any hesitancy. But if there was ever a time for him to develop a renewed sense of aggression on the court, the Tigers would like it to be now.
With guard Terrence Phillips indefinitely suspended while under a Title IX investigation, Mizzou is down to just eight available scholarship players. VanLeer should see the biggest boost in minutes.
“I would like him to be aggressive every single game,” guard Kassius Robertson said after VanLeer scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting in 19 minutes against Mississippi State. “I know he can shoot the ball. I’ve got ultimate confidence in Cullen. … I’d like to see him more in everything.”
Internet posters might disagree. Of all the holdovers from the Kim Anderson era, VanLeer — who only possessed one Power Five scholarship offer, from MU — often draws the most ire from frustrated fans.
He has his Twitter account set to private, and his parents have learned to stop reading message boards.
“It got so bad,” John VanLeer said. “We don’t need to look at that stuff.”
At Mizzou, VanLeer has been a spot-up shooter who hasn’t shot well. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, he averaged at least 3.5 three-pointers per game but never made more than a third of them in a season.
After dealing with a sprained foot for about eight weeks this past summer, VanLeer is shooting 33.3 percent again this season, while his usage on the team has dropped compared to the prior two seasons. He is averaging career lows in minutes (12.8), field-goal attempts (2.1) and points (2.7).
When his dad coached him in high school, VanLeer was never a spot-up three-point shooter. And since taking on that role in college, John VanLeer said, there have been times when the pressure of scoring seemed to have affected his son. Cullen VanLeer began looking to pass rather than shoot, something he had never done before.
“I just think really having the confidence within himself (is important),” MU coach Cuonzo Martin said. “ … He’s not just a guy who can shoot the ball. He can do more than catch and shoot.”
VanLeer started the first three games this season before experiencing a five-game stretch during which he averaged 5.2 minutes per game. He played just 1 minute against Illinois and 2 minutes in Mizzou’s next game, against South Carolina.
But Martin, who called VanLeer a “professional,” knows he won’t hear any complaints from the junior guard about his inconsistent playing time.
Raised by a coach, VanLeer often speaks in cliches. He, of course, says he just cares about winning and helping however he can.
And for now, VanLeer will have the opportunity to do so with an increased role.