When Tulsa fired Doug Wojcik after the 2011-12 season, Jordan Clarkson no longer felt at home with the Golden Hurricane basketball program.
He wanted a fresh start, and at a program with a rich NCAA Tournament tradition.
Clarkson, who never reached a postseason tournament in two seasons at Tulsa, found a home at Missouri. He expected to help the Tigers notch a school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance this season.
Of course, that didn’t happen. The NCAA passed on Missouri, 21-12, relegating Clarkson and company to the postseason National Invitation Tournament.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but Clarkson insists that it isn’t any more distasteful because the Golden Hurricane reached the NCAA tourney after winning the Conference USA tournament crown.
“Congrats to them on a good season they had,” Clarkson said. “I know some of the guys on the t
eam still. and I’m happy for them.”
Junior Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon, is in a similar situation. The Ducks are going dancing, while the Tigers are getting ready to tangle with Davidson in the NIT first round at 8 tonight at Mizzou Arena.
“It feels like a long time since I’ve been there, so it’s not really on my mind,” Brown said.
Instead, Missouri, which drew a No. 2 seed for the NIT, is focused on figuring out a way to quell the Wildcats’ long-range shooters, who make more than eight three-pointers per game.
After all, that’s the first step on a journey the Tigers hope will end with a trip to New York City for the NIT’s semifinals and finals in early April.
“It’s disappointing,” Brown said of not being in the NCAAs. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t, but we’ve got to come out and play or we’ll lose (tonight) and the season will be officially over. We’re trying to get to Madison Square Garden and play there. That’s somewhere everybody would love to play.”
For Clarkson, who graduates in May and might leave Missouri early for the NBA, this might be his only taste of postseason college basketball.
“It won’t be hard for me” to get excited for the NIT, Clarkson said, “because I didn’t want to finish out the season like that, losing to Florida and me not having my best games. Just coming out here, getting another opportunity to play is a blessing.”
That opportunity might mean playing a full 40 minutes for Clarkson and Brown, who also might declare for the NBA Draft after the season, along with senior guard Earnest Ross.
With the status of freshman guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector undecided after both were arrested Saturday for suspicion of misdemeanor marijuana possession, there’s a chance the Tigers will play tonight without any backup guards.
“You’ve just got to go play, man,” Clarkson said. “It’s just like when you’re a little kid out in the park. You just don’t want to stop playing. You’ve got to have that kind of mind-set and just keep going. Even if you get tired, you don’t have anybody to come in for you, so you’ve just got to keep playing. Play until the lights go off.”