Freshman guard Cullen VanLeer joined the Missouri men’s basketball team with a reputation as a three-point shooter.
He’s proved to be much more versatile than that in his first six career games with the Tigers.
There’s no doubt VanLeer can shoot. He has made at least one three-pointer in every game.
Among Missouri players with at least five attempts this season, his 41.7 shooting percentage is the best.
But VanLeer also has only two turnovers in 91 minutes — while handling the ball more than expected, including late in Tuesday’s 88-78 win against Arkansas State — and has averaged 2.7 rebounds in the last three games.
“Cullen’s a basketball player,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said “...Yeah, Cullen can shoot, but he might be the smartest guy on the floor. He might be the smartest guy in the gym — way smarter than his coaches. He knows the game.”
VanLeer scored more than 2,000 points at Pacific (Mo.) High, where he played for his father, John. He averaged 23.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists as a senior last season.
“Cullen eats, sleeps — everything basketball,” sophomore guard Namon Wright said. “He’s a more overall player … than when he first came in, what I thought he was.”
Wright lauded VanLeer’s improving defense, underrated passing and impeccable IQ on the court.
“I’ve just got one word: confidence,” junior Wes Clark said of VanLeer. “He plays with absolute confidence. He brings confidence to the team, brings confidence to the defense, brings confidence to the offense. He’s just a confident player and brings a lot to the floor.”
Defense was always going to be VanLeer’s biggest adjustment at the college level, but he’s a willing defender. He simply needs to get stronger and gain more experience against NCAA Division I athletes.
“Coming in, just play against our guys — guarding Tramaine (Isabell) and Wes and (fellow freshman guard) K.J. (Walton) every day in pickup (games) or open gym, I think it’s really help me just because they’re so quick,” VanLeer said. “I don’t feel like I’m a liability on defense.”
In other ways, college basketball represents a refreshing change of pace.
During his high school days, VanLeer drew constant double- and triple-teams, but he gets more one-on-one matchups he can exploit.
“In high school … I had people in my face all the time,” he said. “I get more open looks in college than I ever did in high school. I shoot a better percentage in college from the three-point line. The floor’s more spread, and playing with other D-I players obviously really helps.”
It’s allowed him to carry over the confidence instilled in him by his father and make a smooth transition with Missouri.
“I’ve always been confident in myself, and I always thought that I could play at the highest level,” VanLeer said. “I think I’ve proven that for the most part, and I’m just going to keep on keeping on. … I feel like Mizzou kind of stole me, honestly. I think I just kind of flew under the radar, but I hope Coach A is happy that I’m here.”