It didn’t take long for Missouri’s talented freshman combo of point guard Wes Clark and forward Johnathan Williams III to adjust to the college game.
Both players put together solid — and, in Clark’s case, perhaps even spectacular — debuts Friday as the Tigers tamed Southeastern Louisiana by 36 points in the season opener.
“They’re just showing everyone what we’ve seen the whole time,” said sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg, who made his first career start in the 89-53 victory. “I was shocked everyone’s seeing it as quick as they are, but as a player and a teammate I’m not shocked, because I’ve seen it since the beginning of the summer.”
Clark played so well that Monday he was announced as the Southeastern Conference freshman of the week after putting up 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists with no turnovers against the Lions.
“He played great,” Williams said. “He played like a great point guard. He made some shots and some good assists, so it was a great debut for him.”
Clark also had a steal, made five of nine shots from the field and hit all three three-point tries while playing 26 minutes as junior Jordan Clarkson’s minutes were limited by foul trouble.
It was an encouraging sign for Missouri, which watched Clark cough up a few turnovers and struggle to make shots during two exhibition games.
“It was good to see when Jordan got into foul trouble, we had Wes come in and was the player we knew he could be,” said Missouri interim coach Tim Fuller, who is filling in while Frank Haith serves a five-game NCAA suspension. “He struggled a bit in the exhibition games, so we weren’t quite sure how long it would take him to get out of his freshman jitters. Hopefully, that was a sign and he can build on some of that confidence.”
Meanwhile, Williams scored seven points with six rebounds. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, but Williams, who made both field-goal tries and went three of four from the free-throw line, was the Tigers’ most productive interior player.
“It was way faster than high school, but I’ve just got to get used to it and learn how to play at a good pace myself,” Williams said.
With that first game under their belts, Clark and Williams hope to relax and focus on becoming even better players, but at the least this launching point provides a stable foundation for successful freshmen campaigns.
“It was a great experience — a lot different than high school,” said Clark, who admitted to a few first-game jitters. “It was a good transition.”
Williams is expected to emerge as Missouri’s best scoring threat in the paint, while Clark will continue to serve primarily as Clarkson’s backup — though a few more performances like his debut might alter the coaching staff’s thinking.
After all, Clark proved he can bring some punch to the lineup.
“When you play Jordan at the one, he comes down and he’s all speed, speed, speed,” Fuller said. “Wes plays with a change of pace and gives us a different look. I call him a mini Mike Tyson because he’s like a boxer out on the court. He just keeps probing and probing and jabbing and jabbing until he gets what he’s looking for.”