Campus Corner

April 25, 2014

New Mizzou basketball coach will have to recruit quickly

The next Missouri men’s basketball coach will have some quick decisions to make. The late signing period is well under way and Missouri has at least two scholarships available and the number could climb as high as five if Kevin Punter, Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright (above, right) all choose to look for new schools.

Campus Corner

The Star's blog on college sports, featuring Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri

One week after Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said there was no timetable for hiring Frank Haith’s replacement, there are indications the process may be winding down.

Of course, exactly whom Alden will hire remains a mystery, but a decision is expected at least by early next week, and whoever the Tigers’ new coach is will have some quick decisions to make.

The late signing period is well under way and Missouri has at least two scholarships available.

Officially, it’s three because of Zach Price’s dismissal and the NBA Draft entry of Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. State Fair Community College guard Kevin Punter verbally committed to the Tigers before Haith left and has waited to sign until the search process runs its course.

Punter told The Star last week that he had not de-committed from the Tigers, though Ben Frederickson of the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Punter is interested in checking out Tennessee.

Missouri also signed two players in the early signing period, Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright, who might ask for a release from their national letter of intent after a new coach is hired.

That means the number of open scholarships could climb as high as five if Punter, Gant and Wright all choose to look for new schools.

That’s a tough circumstance to inherit, especially when the roster’s leading returning scorer — Johnathan Williams III — only averaged 5.8 points as a freshman last season.

Williams’ father has said his son is staying at Missouri, which is great for whoever Alden hires. Williams is talented, athletic and has tremendous upside.

One key to how the rest of the roster shapes up might hinge on another critical decision — interim coach Tim Fuller’s status.

He was the associate head coach under Haith and helped land Gant, who was Georgia’s Mr. Basketball as a senior, and Wright, a talented shooting guard with lockdown defensive potential.

When released its final rankings for the 2014 basketball class Thursday, Gant — who averaged 21 points and 10.5 rebounds at Effingham County High School in Springfield, Ga. — checked in at No. 52 and Wright — who averaged 24 points and 9.4 rebounds at Pacific Hills High School in Los Angeles — was No. 73. Both can play and have a chance to make an immediate impact.

Fuller, who served as the interim coach when Haith was suspended for the first five games of the 2013-14 season and was chosen interim coach again after Haith left, might represent the best chance to retain Wright and Gant.

It was a little surprising that Fuller didn’t follow Haith to Tulsa, but it could prove beneficial for the program. It’s a clear indication that he’s willing to stay at Missouri, where he’d represent continuity and could ease the transition (particularly for the players).

Of course, a new coach also will want to bring his own guys on board, which leaves it unclear what role, if any, Fuller would be offered under the new regime. A new coach may simply want to wipe the slate clean.

It’s also not certain what role Fuller would be willing to accept after two seasons as Haith’s top assistant, but it is another potentially important decision that will shape Missouri’s 2014-15 season.

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