Tigers feature more than one point guard

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Tigers had one option last season.

Missouri was forced to stick with the enigmatic Phil Pressey at point guard through good times and bad. Pressey, now plying his trade with the Boston Celtics, averaged a team-high 33.9 minutes per game in 2012-13 due to a lack of quality backups.

Missouri doesn’t have to worry about that problem this year.

“We have a backup point guard. In the past we didn’t,” Missouri interim head coach Tim Fuller said, alluding to the fact starting point guard Jordan Clarkson has a very capable backup in freshman and top-100 recruit Wes Clark. “I envision us being able to play fast, a lot like we did that first year here (2011-12) where we were No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency rating (123.9 points per 100 possessions). With Wes playing the way he’s playing, it gives me a lot of encouragement and it gives his teammates confidence.”

Clarkson found himself in first-half foul trouble in Missouri’s season opener last Friday against Southeastern Louisiana. Enter Clark, who provided 10 points before the intermission en route to a dazzling 13-point, seven-rebound, four-assist debut.

“It was good to see when Jordan got in foul trouble, we had Wes step in and be the player that we knew he could be,” Fuller said. “He struggled a little bit in the exhibition games, so I wasn’t quite sure how long it was going to take him to get out of those freshman jitters. Hopefully that was a sign and he can build on some of that confidence.”

Clark didn’t have to do nearly as much Tuesday night against Southern Illinois, as Clarkson starred with a 31-point, five-assist, zero-turnover night in 40 minutes. Clark registered just four points and one rebound, but it’s clear the confidence Missouri has in the freshman.

While sharing similar surnames, Clarkson and Clark couldn’t be more dissimilar on the court.

“When you play Jordan Clarkson at the one, Jordan comes down and he’s speed, speed, speed,” Fuller said. “Wes plays with a change of pace and gives us a different look. I call him a mini Mike Tyson. He’s like a boxer out there on the basketball floor, and he just keeps probing and probing and jabbing and jabbing until he gets what he’s looking for.”

Added Clarkson: “I’m probably a little more of a scorer than he is, but he’s a great point guard. He’s able to get everybody involved, he can shoot it, get to the rim and finish over defenders. He’s a great player.”

Unlike last season, Missouri believes there won’t be any drop-off when the backup enters the game.

“It takes some pressure off me, and then sometimes even move me over to the wing, it’s a lot more comfortable too,” Clarkson said. “Just having another guy that’s going to fill some time for me, even when I get rest, (the quality of play is) not going to drop. It’s always a good feeling.”

The soft-spoken Clark doesn’t see himself as anything special. He’s just trying to do his job.

“I was just being a leader, doing whatever was needed,” he said. “Playing defense, rebounding, picking up the slack for Tony Criswell’s absence.

“Just bring energy, whatever it takes to win, whether that’s 15 minutes or five minutes. Whatever the amount of time that’s needed per game, I’ll do.”

With the Tigers’ offense seemingly in the capable hands of the 6-foot-5 Clarkson and the generously listed 6-foot-even Clark, maybe Missouri can return to those prolific scoring levels from two seasons ago.

III

Missouri announced the signing of its second top-50 forward recruit in two years.

Jakeenan Grant, a 6-foot-8 forward from Springfield, Ga., signed a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday to play basketball at Missouri beginning with the 2014-15 season.

Johnathan Williams II was a top-50 forward coming out of high school last season, and is now in a starting role for the Tigers.

Grant was ranked No. 47 nationall by Rivals.com, No. 48 by 247 Sports and No. 50 by ESPN. He was the Georgia AAAAA Player of the Year during a junior campaign that saw him average 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and nearly four blocked shots per game for Effingham County.

“We are really excied to be adding a player of Jakeenan’s caliber to our program and we have started making a recruiting name in the Southeastern Conference footprint in a short period of time,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. “…Jakeenan really fits our program in all aspects of his game and his approach. … He has the ability ot step out and shoot the basketball on the perimeter, defend on all levels of the court and, as he adds strength, his offensive post game will take that next step. Jakeenan can be a difference-making scorer and defender both on the wings and in the paint.”

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