Frank Haith wanted to talk about the future of his Missouri basketball team Thursday. He wound up discussing a little more about the past.
Prospects for a turnaround from the NIT back to the NCAA Tournament dimmed this week when the Tigers’ two leading scorers, juniors Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, declared for the NBA Draft.
The news got worse Thursday when Tigers forward Zach Price, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Louisville who sat out last season, was indefinitely suspended from the team following two arrests on suspicion of assault.
“It’s not the Mizzou way,” Haith said of Price, who was released on bond and is awaiting a prosecutor’s determination on whether to file charges. “It’s not how Frank Haith, from a leadership standpoint, wants our program to be portrayed. And as the leader of this program, I take full responsibility, so we’ve got to fix it.”
It’s an ominous start to an offseason that could come to define the Haith era at Missouri, but he struck a hopeful note when looking forward to the 2014-15 season.
For starters, Brown hasn’t signed with an agent, so he has until April 15 to reconsider and return for his senior season.
If he doesn’t return, the Tigers essentially will be a brand new team for the fourth time in Haith’s four-year tenure.
Along with graduating senior Earnest Ross, Clarkson and Brown accounted for 70.5 percent of Missouri’s points, 65.9 percent of the team’s assists, 60.2 percent of its steals and 38.7 percent of its rebounds. Clarkson averaged 17.5 points and led the Tigers with 3.4 assists per game, and Brown led the SEC in scoring at 19.9 points per game.
The remaining roster, including leading rebounder Johnathan Williams III, collectively averaged 18.1 points last season.
“We’ve got a good nucleus in terms of the young guys and we had some freshmen that played a lot of minutes,” Haith said. “We’ve got to continue to finish up recruiting, particularly if Jabari decides to stay in the draft. We’ve got to work hard at that.”
With Williams and point guard Wes Clark returning along with forwards Ryan Rosburg, Torren Jones and Keanau Post — who all saw action in at least 30 games — the cupboard isn’t bare.
Haith said that while he was disappointed that MU missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, the Tigers were only “a game or two away.” He bristled at the notion Missouri would be in rebuilding mode.
“I don’t want to use that term,” Haith said. “We want to be good. We want to be really good. We will have some time when those guys get here in the summer, and we’ve got to have a crash course with some of those guys, but I do believe we’re going to have the talent.”
That talent includes a handful of transfers. Guard Deuce Bello, a transfer from Baylor, and swingman Cameron Biedscheid, a transfer from Notre Dame, are expected to contribute.
“We’re going to add some more pieces to that, and I think we’ve got two guys coming in that are outstanding players,” Haith said. “(Incoming freshmen) Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright are outstanding players and I feel real confident those guys will have an impact as a freshman.”
Missouri also could augment its 2014-15 roster by mining the junior college ranks, signing another freshman in the late signing period or adding a transfer who receives a waiver to fill the scholarship slots vacated by Clarkson and Brown.
As currently constructed, the Tigers lack a proven scorer or proven star, but Haith shrugged off that concern.
“I think Cam Biedscheid is a very good player and has a chance to be a great scorer,” Haith said. “He’s been impressive in his workouts. I think Johnathan Williams is going to take the next step. I think Torren Jones will take the next step. I think Wes Clark can take the next step. Those are the guys that I point to in terms of the foundation of the program.”