University of Missouri

‘He can move’: Missouri’s basketball veterans weigh in on the Tigers’ freshmen

Torrence Watson on the upcoming season

Missouri sophomore guard Torrence Watson talks about the upcoming season and what to expect from the Tigers.
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Missouri sophomore guard Torrence Watson talks about the upcoming season and what to expect from the Tigers.

A year ago, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin was praising his newcomers for their work ethic, with players such as Torrence Watson, Javon Pickett, Illinois transfer Mark Smith and Xavier Pinson spending all summer in the gym, some leaving Mizzou Arena in the early hours of the morning.

It appears that hasn’t changed with this year’s freshmen on the Missouri men’s basketball team.

The trio of Tray Jackson, Kobe Brown and Mario McKinney all drew praises from MU’s veterans on Friday as they met with reporters.

Jackson and Brown are expected to be immediate contributors at the power forward position, which MU got very little production out of this past season after Jontay Porter tore his ACL in October. McKinney is an athletic guard who gives Missouri a different look in the backcourt.

Pinson hosted McKinney on his official visit last fall and has taken him under his wing, helping him adjust with the playbook. The two have held late-night dunk contests on social media after getting their daily shots in. Watson described McKinney’s game as “a highlight reel.”

Jackson drew high praise from Watson and Smith for his scoring ability. Martin runs a lot of offense through the power forward position and has often called the position “a game-changer” for MU. At 6-foot-8, Jackson is an impressive ball handler for his size and could be used as a bigger wing in certain lineups.

Brown committed to Missouri in the spring after averaging 24.1 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists per game as a senior at Lee High School in Alabama. Watson said that Brown’s frame has made him a tough matchup defensively. At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, Brown looks more like a football player than a small forward. Watson said he underestimated Brown’s athleticism while guarding him and learned the hard way.

“He’s a four but can play like a two or three,” Watson said. “He can move. He’s going to be a problem for fours to guard.”

Missouri also signed junior college center Axel Okongo, who has yet to arrive on campus as of Friday and isn’t expected to until August. The 7-footer is currently finishing a class at Northwest College in Wyoming.

After struggling for most of his freshman season, Watson finished strong, averaging 14.5 points over his final six games. The 6-foot-5 sophomore has gone out of his way to make sure the three freshmen are adjusting mentally, after confidence held him back for most of his freshman season.

“I always try and talk to them because I know how hard it was for me with confidence and struggling at the beginning of the year,” Watson said. “I don’t want them to go through that.”

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.
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