Perched directly next to his coach on Selection Sunday, Kim English did the same thing he always does. He talked. And talked. About anything. About everything.
And the coach, who is definitely used to the routine by now, just laughed.
“When Kimmie starts to talk sometimes, you just (say) OK, OK, OK,” Frank Haith said. “I don’t really hear what he says.”
But see, that’s the thing; most of the time, Haith actually does listen. And while teammates also gleefully admit that English talks nonstop, they usually listen, too.
“Everybody knows from Twitter that Kimmie is charismatic, a great speaker, a great talker, a motivator,” junior guard Michael Dixon said. “That’s just the way he is, his personality. People take to him quickly.”
On a roster full of capable and talented seniors, English, a 6-foot-6 senior guard, has become the voice of the 30-4 and third-ranked Tigers.
“The leadership of this team was spectacular,” Haith said. “Kim English has been remarkable in that regard. Marcus (Denmon), too. But Kimmie has been unbelievable.”
It’s a remarkable turn for a player who struggled through a difficult junior season. His shooting mechanics were off, and he posted career lows in field-goal percentage (36.6) and three-point shooting percentage (36.6). His field-goal percentage was the lowest among any Missouri regular who started a game last season.
But with a brand-new coaching staff, English was determined to lead and turn in a better season in 2011-12. By performing better on the court, his abundance of words would carry more weight off it.
“They say there are lead-by-example guys and guys that just talk, but Kimmie does both,” said senior Laurence Bowers, who said he looks up to English despite the fact they came to Missouri the same year. “That will win over any teammate.”
Especially given the results this season. Despite a position change that routinely has him battling bigger, stronger players in the paint, English is having the best season of his career. He’s averaging 14.9 points (second to Marcus Denmon), leads the team in three-point shooting (47.3 percent) and is third in field-goal shooting (53 percent).
Some of this, assistant coach Isaac Chew said, has to do with English’s improved shooting form.
“He was disappointed with his shooting last year, and he put more time into it,” Chew said. “He’s cleaned some things up, going more straight up and straight down as opposed to falling back.
“And he’s taking good shots.”
The latter, English says, is a credit to the coaching staff and his teammates.
“Coach Haith does a good job of studying teams’ deficiencies and finding ways that we can use our size to our advantage,” English says. “My teammates do a good job of finding me spots where I can be successful.”
The position change means English is often matched up with a bigger player who sometimes can’t guard him on the perimeter. By the time one of the Tigers’ other guards — typically point guard Phil Pressey — has penetrated the defense and kicked it right back out, English is often left with an wide-open shot in a spot he likes or a match up against a player he can blow right by.
“What we do offensively really helps him in terms of being at the right position at the right time,” says Chew, who noted that English likes to shoot three-pointers from the corner.
But what English does off-the-court helps the team, too.
“You need guys like that that,” senior guard Matt Pressey said, “who aren’t afraid to step up and say certain things.”
“When there’s something that needs to be said, regardless of whether it’s going to hurt someone’s feelings or not, he says it,” Bowers says. “And that’s the sign of a good leader. When something is affecting the team, you have to put it other there.”
English has credited Haith for creating a culture of accountability, one in which players and coaches achieve their goals by holding each other to a certain standard.
But there’s no doubt English’s relentless talking is one of the main reasons Haith has been able to enforce that standard.
English has found his game — and his voice — and Haith couldn’t be happier.
“Leadership stems from how guys act when you’re not around, and you need that locker room guy,” Haith said. “I think Kimmie has been that for this team.”