The Border War rivalry hasn’t been active for the last five years and yet the Missouri basketball team acted like it never ended.
Speaking to the media after the program’s pro day on Saturday, a handful of Tigers shared their favorite memories of the rivalry they grew up watching and the passion it brings out of fans. Missouri’s pro day was attended by 35 NBA personnel from 24 teams according to a team spokesperson.
“When coach said it was a possibility I told (the team) ‘Y’all better get ready because this game is a lot to a lot of people,’” freshman forward Michael Porter Jr. said. “We have to go out there and play hard and put on for Mizzou.”
Porter, senior wing Jordan Barnett and junior forward Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, all said some of their favorite childhood memories were from watching Missouri play Kansas at Mizzou Arena at one point or another.
The 6-foot-10 freshman remembers sitting in the upper level of the arena for a game shortly after moving to Columbia and seeing the rivalry in person for the first time.
Barnett was in the stands for Marcus Denmon’s late-game heroics in 2012 as a recruiting target for former Coach Frank Haith and can still recite the ending where Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor missed a pair of free throws to seal the win for Missouri.
“It was one of the most crazy college games I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “That was something I could see myself experiencing and now I guess in a way this is my chance to experience it.”
Barnett, Porter and Puryear were quick to point out that the game’s purpose is to raise money for hurricane victims, which fans may have lost sight of.
For freshman guard C.J. Roberts, a Texas native, the game hits home for him since his family is from some of the areas that got hit hard by Hurricane Harvey.
“My grandmother lived in Houston and she told me it was really bad at her side,” he said.
Roberts said everyone from his family is doing well and didn’t suffer any severe damage to their possessions. The game will put Roberts and Porter up against Kansas freshman Billy Preston, who is good friends with both of them.
Porter and his brother Jontay are also friendly with Dedric and K.J. Lawson, a pair of Kansas transfers from Memphis who come from a similar basketball family to the Porters.
“Somehow Bill Self has a way of keeping those guys around so they’re very experienced, very talented and he’s a really good coach,” Porter Jr. said. “Coach Self recruited me pretty heavily so it will be cool to see him again.”
Missouri made it clear on Saturday that while the game is being considered an exhibition, they don’t plan to treat it as one. Puryear said he never expected to play Kansas when he committed to the program since no progress had been made on resuming the series prior to this week.
“Both teams are going to give everything they had,” he said. “It’s going to be a game.”
Missouri’s NBA pro-day roundup
▪ Porter said a lot of teammates were asking him for advice on how to handle the presence of pro scouts since teams have already had the chance to watch him at the McDonald’s All-American Game and Nike Hoops Summit earlier in the year. His advice? “Even if you don’t have your best practice they have the whole season to watch you go to work.”
▪ Graduate transfer Kassius Robertson told Porter that he committed to Missouri partly because of the attention that will be on the program with him there and the exposure he hoped he could get from it. Porter said he takes that seriously and hoped he was able to shed the light on some teammates today. “What (the scouts) probably got out of today is that we have more than one player that could be a pro on this team,” Porter said. “We got a few of them. I think they saw that.”
Robertson, a Canadian, said he didn’t know a lot about the rivalry prior to this week and said his teammates haven’t taken him under their wing to fill him in so far. He joked that he plans to seek out Puryear for some help on it.