As Missouri walked off Norm Stewart Court last Saturday seconds after a 19-point loss to Arizona, third-year coach Kim Anderson put an arm around junior forward Jordan Barnett and whispered into his ear.
“You’ve graduated from the scout team,” Anderson said.
Barnett joined the Tigers last winter after leaving Texas midyear and, under NCAA transfer rules, he had to sit out for two full semesters.
Mizzou’s semester ended Friday, making Barnett eligible to play again for the first time since Dec. 8, 2015.
Barnett dropped a career-high 12 points in a season-high 13 minutes against Texas-San Antonio that day, the last of 25 games he played in parts of two seasons with the Longhorns.
Now, Barnett, a St. Louis native and Christian Brothers College High graduate, has returned home for the final two seasons of his college career.
“Man, I can’t wait,” Barnett said. “I have a calendar at home, where I’m just marking up days. … It’s going to be a really good experience putting that big X through Saturday.”
Barnett is expected to make a big impact for a Tigers team that has struggled to generate offense during a 5-4 start to the season.
Mizzou, which plays host to Eastern Illinois at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena, is shooting 40.3 percent for the season, which ranks 315th among 347 NCAA Division I teams.
The Tigers’ 28.5-percent clip from three-point range ranks 334th.
Anderson lauded Barnett’s offensive versatility. He’s a skilled three-point shooter, but also has the size at 6-feet-7 to post up smaller guards as a wing player.
Barnett expects to play mostly small forward, but he also could log minutes as a stretch four in some circumstances.
“He’s probably the most-skilled athlete that we have in regards to being able to shoot and pass in trouble, do all those things,” Anderson said.
Barnett’s athleticism also should bolster a defense that’s played well during the nonconference slate.
“He’s freakishly athletic at the rim,” sophomore forward Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, said. “For his size, he’s a really good shot-blocker, very explosive going toward the rim and has a very elite skill set when it comes to mid-range and the one-dribble pull-up.”
Still, Anderson cautioned about expecting too much right away from Barnett.
“While we’re excited, I hope people understand that he hasn’t played in a game in over a year,” Anderson said. “It will take him some time to get adjusted. I hope it doesn’t, but I think it probably will. … I think he’ll be a difference maker. Significant? We’ll see. I’m hopeful he will be, but I don’t want to put that pressure on him. Let’s let him play.”
Anderson doesn’t expect Barnett to come in averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, even if he scored 43 with 20 boards in his last game at Mizzou Arena, an 86-77 overtime win against Columbia-Hickman in the 2014 Missouri Class 5 boys basketball state championship game.
“That would be awesome if I could do that,” Barnett said when asked about his last game on Norm Stewart Court, “but I’m just going to go out there and play hard and do what I know I can do best. That’s hit shots and play defense. … I’m not really worried about numbers. Just a win would be nice.”
Barnett said he’s especially excited to play Eastern Illinois, which features a handful of players — Cornell Johnston, Ray Crossland, Marshawn Blackmon and Casey Teson — he played with or against growing up in St. Louis.
“This week has come with a lot of nerves,” Barnett said. “The closer it comes, the more nervous I’ll get. Obviously, I’ll get over it. I’m a basketball player. I love this game, so there’s really no reason for me to be nervous once I step on the court.”
Barnett was the No. 70 overall player as a four-star small forward in the 2014 recruiting class, according to Rivals. ESPN rated him as the No. 23 player at his position.
Before picking Texas, Barnett also had offers from Butler, Florida, Harvard, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Purdue and Stanford.