University of Missouri

Can Missouri land its latest recruit with ties to the Tigers' athletic program?

Mizzou basketball target Mario McKinney on his AAU season

Mario McKinney, a major Missouri Tigers basketball recruiting target for 2019, discusses the his AAU season and what he hopes to get out of it.
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Mario McKinney, a major Missouri Tigers basketball recruiting target for 2019, discusses the his AAU season and what he hopes to get out of it.

Missouri fans might more easily remember the recruits who left than the ones who came.

Look no further than the Tigers’ recruitment of legacies.

Drew Lock and Shane Ray decided to follow their fathers’ footsteps and play for the Tigers. But Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott, who went to high school in St. Louis and whose parents attended Mizzou, chose Ohio State.

For basketball, there’s Devin Booker, Tyler Hansbrough and Victor Bailey Jr. — all of whom picked colleges other than Mizzou, where their dads were athletes. The commitment of any of them, especially the first two, could have been program-changers.

Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin has his first chance to lock up a recruit with Mizzou ties in 2019 St. Louis point guard Mario McKinney. He's the cousin of Jimmy McKinney, who played point guard for the Tigers under Quin Snyder from 2002-06.

Martin has made Mario McKinney a priority since his hire a year ago and has been courtside every time his Bradley Beal Elite AAU team has taken the floor this spring.

“I’m a big target for them,” McKinney said. “They really want me to come there.”

After coming off the bench for a team loaded with upperclassmen during his first two seasons, McKinney had a breakout high school season for Vashon, where Jimmy McKinney serves as an assistant coach.

As a junior, Mario McKinney averaged 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals per game while leading his team to the sectional playoffs.

“It went good this season,” he said. “We had a very young team. No seniors. We have everyone coming back so next year should be fun. I feel like I can lead my team to the state championship.”

E.J. Liddell, a fellow Missouri priority for 2019 who has played with McKinney since the second grade, said his best friend is a completely different player after getting the reins to his high school team.

“His confidence has grown a lot more,” Liddell said. “He plays hard, he’s an energizer. One of the most athletic guards in the EYBL.”

Both Vashon and Bradley Beal Elite give McKinney playing time at both guard positions. At Vashon, he’s the offensive sparkplug and primarily plays point guard.

On the AAU circuit, he plays alongside fellow floor general Yuri Collins, so McKinney plays off of the ball more. With an AAU schedule that usually calls for two to three games a day, McKinney loves the arrangement. He gets to show college coaches his ability to play both positions and not tire out as quickly, as Collins takes some pressure off him.

“I don’t have to work as much, dribble the ball as much, so I can save some of my energy,” he said. “In high school I have to bring up the ball too because Coach (Tony Irons) has more confidence with the ball in my hands than others.”

Aside from Missouri, McKinney also holds offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Marquette, Illinois, Saint Louis and Xavier. Since his AAU season started, he’s picked up offers from Florida and Louisville. And more can be on the way.

He recently had in-home visits with Iowa State and Marquette and said both went well.

Martin and assistant coach Chris Hollender have been present at most of McKinney’s postseason games, but have not had an in-home visit with him because they recently saw him work out at Vashon.

McKinney doesn’t plan to make a decision until sometime into his senior season, but it appears Missouri will be a factor until the end, as Martin continues to try to seize control of the St. Louis area.