During the last 10 games of his freshman season, Missouri sophomore Ryan Rosburg managed to get off the bench for a grand total of 30 minutes.
Rosburg, a 6-foot-10 forward from Chesterfield, Mo., never scored more than six points and topped four rebounds only once in 31 games last season.
Things have been different this season. Rosburg has started all 23 games for the Tigers, 16-7 overall and 4-6 in the Southeastern Conference, and been far more productive.
Rosburg averages 5.0 points and 4.6 rebounds, which is up from 1.0 points and 1.3 boards. His numbers still aren’t staggering, but the growth in his game is evident.
“He’s embraced his role and really, I think, made great strides as a player,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said earlier in the season when asked about Rosburg’s progress. “He’s only going to get better the more court time he gets. I see him continually improve.”
There was further evidence of that during Saturday’s 91-88 loss at Mississippi when Rosburg was perhaps Missouri’s best player for a five-minute stretch early in the second half.
He scored nine of his 11 points, a career-high in SEC play, during that stretch.
It started with a layup a few minutes into the second half.
Rosburg then kept a possession alive with an offensive rebound as the Tigers attempted to rally from a 15-point halftime hole against the Rebels.
The most memorable moment might have been the athletic, left-handed tip-in he made off a missed pull-up jumper by junior Jabari Brown.
Of course, after freshman Wes Clark threaded an interior pass to Rosburg for an authoritative two-handed jam at the 14:41 mark, the earlier putback slipped to second on the highlight reel.
Saddled with foul trouble and limited to seven minutes, Rosburg didn’t score in the opening half, but he made five of six shots after the break and chipped in five rebounds.
Haith, who pinned Saturday’s loss to the Rebels on a poor showing by the frontcourt, singled out Rosburg for the way he competed in the second half.
Missouri would like such stretches more consistently, but it’s clear that Rosburg is inching in the right direction.
He gives credit for that to competing against Alex Oriakhi throughout the 2012-13 season.
“Last year helped me so much, battling every day in practice,” Rosburg said.
“Alex, last year, was one of the best big guys in the country and I didn’t see him just one night. I saw him every single day in practice. I think that helped me a lot — just seeing the way he prepared and how hard he worked, just his overall attitude just helped me. This year, my confidence is at an all-time high.”
Assistant coach Tim Fuller offered Rosburg no quarter from Oriakhi either.
“(Fuller) was really hard on me, in particular, because he wanted me to get Alex ready for games,” Rosburg said.
“That was part of it, but the main part was him getting me ready for the next three years when Alex wouldn’t be around.”
Expect Missouri to continue leaning on Rosburg, who must continue to develop, even after 6-10 junior forward Zach Price, a transfer from Louisville, becomes eligible next season.