We’re talking about practice, man. Practice.
With all due respect to Allen Iverson, Missouri coach Kim Anderson sees immense value in practice and views the Tigers’ poor practice habits as a primary culprit in a 5-6 start to the season.
“The most frustrating thing about this team is that it’s a bad practice team,” Anderson said Sunday during a news conference at Mizzou Arena.
If Missouri wants to improve, especially with conference play starting this week next week the effort and concentration in practice must improve, Anderson said.
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Consistency is the key, he said — from game to game, half to half and, yes, practice to practice.
“That all carries over into a game,” Anderson said. “You can’t be good in the first half and bad in the second half and win. It just doesn’t work, not against good teams.”
Sophomore point guard Wes Clark said during last season juniors Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, who both left school early to pursue the NBA, along with senior Earnest Ross set the tone for practice.
“They brought a sense of urgency every practice that has been hard to match,” Clark said. “We’re trying to find out where we can get that from and how to build off that. We’re looking for it.”
Clark said he needs to take on some of that responsibility and mentioned a handful of other guys, including sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III, senior point guard Keith Shamburger and freshman wing Montaque Gill-Caesar.
Anderson said he has tried different motivational tactics ranging from getting on players to go harder at practice to a softer approach, but nothing has worked — at least not to his satisfaction yet.
“The bottom line is, the guys have got to step up now,” Anderson said. “They’ve got to step up, and we have to do better in practice. … I don’t think we realize how important practice is. Sometimes, it takes a while to jump-start guys. Sometimes, it takes a lot of effort on my part, and I don’t really want to do that.”
He’d prefer if the Tigers’ players found the motivation and drive to improve day by day from within.
The ongoing search to define roles within the team remains a hurdle to Missouri becoming a better practice team.
“It comes from maturity,” Clark said. “We’ve got to grow up a little bit still. We’re learning ourselves still and trying to learn our niche.”
Anderson admits that is part of it.
Elite high school players don’t always embrace great practice habits, but it’s essential at the NCAA Division I level, where every player on the floor was an elite high school player.
“When you’re young, convincing guys how hard it is and how important it is to practice — there’s been a lot of challenges for me, but that’s probably been one of the hardest ones to convince guys we have to be better at practice,” Anderson said. “If we don’t, then we’re not going to get better as a team.”
With school out, Missouri is working more with each player on fundamentals.
Anderson and his staff are trying to build off the momentum from a 62-59 loss against Illinois on Dec. 20.
The Tigers came up short when Rayvonte Rice drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer, but the team showed more fight against the Fighting Illini and, buoyed by the atmosphere, the defeat stung more than previous losses.
“(We had) just a will and an aggression that we haven’t seen before,” Clark said.
Missouri, which plays Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Sprint Center, recharged with family time during the holidays but hopes to display that same tenacity moving forward.
“I’m not happy with the record, but I’m happy with the progress of some guys,” Anderson said. “I think other guys need to continue to get better. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully, we can keep improving and be consistent.”
It starts in practice.