Clarkson-Pressey friendship leads to new MU point guard

COLUMBIA — Jordan Clarkson might not be at Missouri if it wasn’t for Phil Pressey.

Clarkson, the transfer from Tulsa, has been tapped as the replacement for Pressey as the Tigers’ starting point guard for the 2013-14 season.

It’s almost as if Pressey picked his successor.

“Phil did a lot of recruiting too,” Clarkson said Tuesday during media day at Mizzou Arena. Practice began Monday. “He was on the phone with me all the time. I think me and Phil were on the phone maybe five to six days of the week. We were just conversating. I was trying to pick his brain.”

Those phone calls took place after Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik was fired in March of 2012, which prompted the standout guard to transfer. Clarkson picked Missouri over schools like UCLA and Illinois, and after sitting on the bench last season during his requisite transfer year, the redshirt junior is eligible for the upcoming campaign.

But why would Pressey put so much time and effort in bringing Clarkson to Missouri?

As it turns out, Clarkson and Pressey go way back.

The two played against each other in elementary basketball leagues in San Antonio. Clarkson calls it home, while Pressey’s father, Paul Pressey, was an assistant coach for the NBA’s Spurs from 1994-2000.

The two sporadically kept in touch throughout high school via text message, and Clarkson, who is a year younger than Pressey, would watch Missouri games on TV during his freshman season with the Golden Hurricane.

Their friendship took the next step when Clarkson decided to transfer.

“When it was time for me to transfer, it was kind of like, ‘Hey man, you might as well come and stop through and see how it is,’” Clarkson said, paraphrasing Pressey’s initial recruiting pitch. “This is my last stop.”

Missouri head coach Frank Haith couldn’t be happier.

“Jordan has the ability to make plays like Phil,” Haith said. “Phil’s as good a passer as I’ve ever been around, but I think Jordan does have a feel to hit open people. You look at his size at 6-foot-5 ... he’s a great finisher at the basket. Phil kind of struggled at times doing that. ... Jordan’s our best defender.”

Clarkson, who averaged 16.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists during his breakout sophomore season at Tulsa, was more of a combination guard for the Golden Hurricane. Now he’ll be counted out to be the primary ballhandler.

“In this last year I’ve been groomed to play that position,” Clarkson said.

Added Haith: “Jordan has really thrived and learned that position the last year going against Phil everyday. Don’t disregard his greatest attribute, that he can score the ball too.”

Clarkson was able to pick up the intricacies of the position by learning from Pressey last season.

“He’s a great point guard, I think one of the best guards last year in college basketball,” Clarkson said of Pressey. “I learned a lot from him, being around him, all his experience that he has had. Just really his ball-screen stuff, being able to make reads of that, just watching him as a leader just handle everybody on the team.”

So now that Clarkson has been handed the keys to the offense, how will he stack up against his predecessor?

“I’m more of a combo guard, can probably score better,” he said. “My passing ability is not as up to par as he is, but I’m able to get guys shots and make plays for other people. Scoring, that’s something I’ve done my whole college career, that’s something I’ve been comfortable with.”

His teammates are confident in his ability to take over at the point.

“They’re definitely going to have to gameplan against him,” Jabari Brown, Missouri’s top returning scorer at 13.7 points per game, said of Clarkson. “He’s a really good player. They’re going to have to pick their poison. Me and Earnest (Ross) on either wing, and him, you have to choose what you’re going to take away.”

Unlike last season, when it was almost set in stone Pressey would handle the majority of the minutes at point guard, averaging nearly 34 per game, Missouri is blessed with multiple options this year.

“Trust me, Wes Clark will play a lot of minutes at the 1,” Haith said of the freshman from Detroit, Mich. “Wes is very, very good. They’ll be a lot of teams that Wes would probably start for. They’ll be some lineups out there with Wes and Jordan playing together, and Wes will be the point guard.”

Fellow freshman Shane Rector, along with Brown, are also capable ballhandlers.

Whether stationed at point or on the wing, Clarkson just wants one thing.

“I want to play in the (NCAA) Tournament,” he said. “That’s one of our goals as a team. We’re just going to take it one game at a time.”

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