As Missouri embarked on a program-worst 13-game losing skid last season, 6-foot-10 forward Ryan Rosburg suddenly found himself benched.
During a seven-game midseason stretch as Southeastern Conference play started, Rosburg saw on the floor for a grand total of 29 minutes, including 16 in a loss at Auburn. He was a spectator during home losses against Tennessee and Arkansas and played 5 minutes or fewer in four other games.
As the program he grew up loving crumbled around him, Rosburg contemplated giving up on his childhood dream.
“There were times I didn’t even know if I wanted to play,” Rosburg said Thursday during his final weekly media day as a member of the Tigers. “It was tough. It was stressful. I had a lot of talks with family members and old coaches trying to lift my spirits. That was probably the lowest point that I’ve ever been in my athletic career and, shoot, one of the lowest points of my life.”
Rosburg endured another low point Jan. 13.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Mizzou was still reeling from a 33-point loss the night before against Arkansas, athletic director Mack Rhoades announced a self-imposed postseason ban, among other penalties, stemming from a 19-month investigation into NCAA violations.
Rosburg — who’s been a staple on the SEC Honor Roll, was selected to the SEC Community Service Team on Friday and boasts a 3.35 grade-point average as a marketing major — would pay dearly for the transgressions of others. His career suddenly had a definitive expiration date.
“He was disappointed, because you don’t like people telling you when your last game is,” Rosburg’s father, Paul, said. “Always, in sports, you play until you lose, but he doesn’t have that opportunity. Tomorrow night’s it.”
Ryan Rosburg dons his black-and-gold No. 44 uniform for the final time at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Florida at Mizzou Arena.
“At this point, with one game left, I’m just sitting here wishing I had two or three or four,” Rosburg said. “That’s a hard pill to swallow, but there’s nothing I can do about it. … I’m just making the most of it and having fun.”
That wasn’t always the case, especially last season during a dismal 9-23 campaign.
Rosburg had started 32 games, averaging 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds, as a sophomore under Frank Haith in 2013-14. He played a diminished role in new coach Kim Anderson’s inaugural season, seeing his playing time cut by one-third as his production plummeted along with it.
“Going from my sophomore year, starting almost the whole year and (nearly) making the NCAA Tournament, to not getting off the bench, it was a steep fall,” Rosburg said. “Nothing was going my way it seemed like. There was a lot of different things going on and it was just hard to want to play basketball.”
Rosburg talked with his older brother, Andy, who played at Missouri in 2011-12. He mulled the struggles with his parents, Paul and Cindy. He even leaned on his former high school and AAU coaches for counsel.
Ultimately, Rosburg opted to persevere and is going out on his terms.
“I knew when I committed to Missouri that it was a four-year commitment for me,” he said. “I wanted to be here, stick it out, work hard and turn things around. I think that’s what I’ve been able to do.”
Has he ever. Rosburg averaged only 4.4 points through his first 22 games, but is confidence surged entering the final month of his career. He has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games and is averaging 15.5 points and 5.6 rebounds since Feb. 6, earning the nickname “Ryan Abdul-Jabbar” from sophomore guard Tramaine Isabell.
“I don’t know if a month ago he just said, ‘What the heck, I’m going to start firing it up there,’ but he’s really played well the last month,” Anderson said. “It’s to the point where teams are double teaming him now, so I think that shows the type of respect they have for him.”
At times, Rosburg was criticized by fans during the team’s freefall from respectability, but sentiment has changed. There was a smattering of boos when he was pulled from the Tennessee game after a scorching start.
One fan exiting Mizzou Arena a few days later in an upset against South Carolina compared Rosburg to Bill Walton after an 18-point, five-rebound performance.
“We couldn’t have scripted it any better as parents,” Cindy Rosburg said. “We saw some things on Twitter and blogs that were really hard to read, but, most of all, we could tell that there were times that Ryan just wasn’t happy playing and the joy for basketball that he’s always had just wasn’t there. The fact that it all clicked and we’ve had this last month with such a great run, it’s hard to even describe how proud we are and overwhelmed almost.”
Rosburg — whose career .606 shooting percentage (208 of 343 from the field) would rank third in Mizzou history behind only Ricardo Ratliffe and the late Jeff Warren if he had the minimum 500 field-goal attempts to qualify — is similarly thrilled he stuck it out.
“I love Mizzou — growing up wanting to wear Missouri on my chest, it’s just been a dream come true the last couple years …” Rosburg said. “I’m definitely glad I stuck it out. I knew if I would’ve walked away from the game, I just never would’ve forgiven myself.”