Freshman center Jeremiah Tilmon had been on campus fewer than three weeks when he was cited for possession of alcohol by a minor June 16 by University of Missouri police.
New Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin opted to handle the matter internally, according to a statement from the program, but he acknowledged the incident Monday when asked by The Star during the SEC Men’s Basketball Summer Teleconference.
“It’s a tough lesson for Jeremiah to learn, but we’ll continue to push forward and help him grow within it,” Martin said.
He declined to delve into specifics about any discussions with Tilmon, an East St. Louis (Ill.) graduate from Martin’s hometown.
“We have a lot of conversations with our guys and, for me, I don’t start having conversations when an incident takes place, if it takes place,” Martin said. “Luckily, I’ve been blessed. Everywhere I’ve been we’ve had successful young men on and off the court. But whatever we talk about, he knows what we talk about as a team and as a family. I talk to our guys about those things all the time.”
Asked if Tilmon — a 6-foot-10 prospect who averaged 15.3 points and 11.0 rebounds as a senior for the Flyers — was suspended, Martin said, “He’s a part of our team.”
Tilmon, who was ranked as the No. 42 player in the 2017 recruiting class by Rivals, is part of a vaunted crop of incoming talent expected to transform Mizzou, which finished 27-68 during the last three seasons.
Five-star forward Michael Porter Jr., who is the top prospect in the 2017 class, remains the centerpiece of the Tigers’ rebuilding effort, but Tilmon is an integral piece along with freshmen guards Blake Harris and C.J. Roberts.
“(We’re) working hard right now, going into our fourth week of summer school and workouts,” Martin said. “Things are going well. Guys are making progress. The energy’s good so, so far, off to a solid start. … I like our parts and I like our desire to be a good team. Individually, (the desire) to be great players with the time they’re putting in on the floor.”
That includes a returning core of players — forwards Jordan Barnett and Kevin Puryear along with guards Terrence Phillips, Jordan Geist and Cullen VanLeer — who drew high praise from Martin.
“With the guys that are returning, they’re wonderful young men,” Martin said. “They’re battle-tested. They’ve been through a lot and stayed the course. It speaks a lot to the character of these young men that had opportunities to go to some other schools after going through some tough seasons, but they stayed here and wanted to be a part of it.”
Right now, Martin said a primary focus during summer workouts involves individual defensive development.
“The biggest key for most young guys nowadays is one-on-one defense, and also that has a lot to do with the way the game’s officiated,” Martin said.
The emphasis on eliminating hand checks has put a premium on quick feet and anticipation.
“You have to be sound as far as your spacing and defending a guy but still be able to challenge his shot,” Martin said.
While fans’ hopes and dreams for 2017-18 are soaring, Martin still isn’t ready to saddle Mizzou with any expectations.
“We’re learning how hard we have to play to be a successful team,” he said. “ … Realistically, you’re talking about defend, rebound, play hard and play as a team. Those are the things that you can control night in and night out — to play as a team, to defend to the best of your ability, to play as hard as you can play, to rebound the basketball, to share the ball on the offensive side of the ball. But to give you numbers and specifics, there’s too many unknowns because we’re still going through it.”