Mario McKinney and E.J. Liddell have been friends since kindergarten. Or second grade. They can’t exactly agree.
Whenever the two teamed up on the St. Louis Majestics as boys, they formed what has since become a formidable basketball duo — one McKinney wouldn’t mind keeping together for college.
McKinney, a 6-foot-1 guard from St. Louis, told reporters at the Peach Jam on Friday that he and Liddell, two of Missouri’s biggest priorities for the class of 2019, have thought about being a package deal.
“We are still trying to weigh that out, see if we still want to do that or not,” McKinney said.
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Aside from the Tigers, the likes of Kansas State, Marquette, Florida and Louisville are some of the other schools that have offered both players.
Florida and Louisville are two schools that offered both prospects in the spring, while Missouri and Kansas State made the duo priorities long before then.
Package deals have long been talked about among top recruits, but they have rarely been executed.
Former Missouri player Michael Porter Jr. and former Oklahoma star Trae Young talked about the idea all four years of high school and didn’t pull it off. The Duke duo of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones were the only top recruits in recent memory to successfully back up the talk and attend the same school.
Liddell — who has an official visit planned to Ohio State, a school McKinney doesn’t hold a scholarship offer from — admitted that although he and his friend have discussed playing in college together since they were high school freshmen, he isn’t even sure they will take any official visits together.
“He’s just a great defensive player, high motor,” Liddell said of why he likes playing with McKinney.
McKinney said he plans to weigh his options after the Peach Jam before cutting his list to five, where he will then start to take official visits. He plans to decide on a school in either November or December.
The 6-foot-2 combo guard said Kansas State and Auburn are two schools likely to get official visits, while Missouri would likely get an unofficial visit since it’s only two hours from his home.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin and assistant coach Chris Hollender were regulars at McKinney’s games this past season, and McKinney likes the relationship he’s built with both.
Like Martin, Hollender has a sense of humor with McKinney but isn’t afraid to tell him how he’s really playing.
“He’s not going to sugarcoat anything with me,” McKinney said. “He’ll let me know if I’m not doing something right. And if I’m doing something right, he’ll let me know.”
McKinney’s cousin Jimmy McKinney played point guard for Missouri under former coach Quin Snyder, and Mario said Jimmy McKinney has been a huge help in navigating the recruiting process.
Jimmy McKinney is now an assistant coach for his alma mater Vashon High School in St. Louis, where Mario currently plays.
“He would like for me to go to Mizzou, but it’s not his choice,” Mario said. “He said go where my heart is telling me to do.”
Detroit-area recruit will trim list this weekend
Rocket Watts, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, had planned to release a shortened list of schools he was interested in earlier this summer. But that list never arrived. Why?
“It was hard,” Watts said on Thursday at the Peach Invitational, which runs alongside Nike’s Peach Jam.
So Watts, who is Rivals’ 50th-ranked player in the class of 2019, took more time. He and his father watched film of some of the schools he is considering to try and figure out which programs’ playing styles fit him best. Now he’s ready to release that list, which he said will come out on Sunday.
Watts mentioned Mizzou as one school that is strongly recruiting him, along with Florida State, Michigan State, Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette.
Missouri assistant coach Cornell Mann, who is from the Detroit area, is the Tigers’ lead recruiter in Michigan.
“The coaches know where I come from,” Watts said of Mann and Martin, who grew up in East St. Louis, Ill. “They’re from rough neighborhoods like where I’m coming from. That’s a good feel. They like my toughness, stuff like that.”
Watts is a great outside shooter with a quick release. He’s working on improving his explosiveness, and he did not provide any hints regarding which schools will be on his soon-to-be-released list of “five or six” schools.
“Gotta wait and see,” Watts said.
Five-star recruit plans to visit in August
Josh Christopher, a consensus five-star class of 2020 basketball recruit and a cousin of Missouri strength coach Nicodemus Christopher, remains adamant on visiting Missouri in August after the AAU season wraps up.
“It’s time for me to see my cousin,” he told The Star. “It was kind of a ritual to see him while he was at Cal (where he worked for coach Cuonzo Martin). I think going to see him at Missouri would be important for me to do.”
The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is playing in the Peach Invitational Tournament with the Las Vegas Prospects. Earlier this summer, Christopher tried out for the USA under-17 national team but was cut despite a strong performance in the tryout camp.
“I thought I played pretty good,” Christopher said after a Peach Invitational game. “They do what they want to do. So it’s just a matter of getting in the gym. I put in the work, so when I go back I make sure I make that team.”
Christopher has also spent his spare time playing in the famous pro-amateur Drew League in Los Angeles. Christopher is from Lakewood, Calif., and said the experience has done wonders for his game.
He plans to play with NBA star DeMar DeRozan on the same Drew League team once the AAU season ends.
“It’s tougher than I expected,” Christopher said of the Drew League. “There’s grown men out there. I think it’s a better experience than people think it is. There’s a lot to learn. Tempo of the game, pace. Everybody’s big. Me being in high school, you kind of get that pro basketball feel.”
Christopher has no other visits planned aside from Missouri. He said he’s also heard from Kansas, Washington and Ohio State, among others.