In his third year, Haith coaching team of his recruits

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Frank Haith is finally afforded a modicum of continuity on the Missouri Tigers’ basketball roster heading into the 2013-14 season.

As strange as that sounds, considering the Tigers lost six players off last year’s squad and bring in nine newcomers, it’s indisputable the third-year Missouri head coach appreciates the familiarity.

“It’s been new every year. We had a new group last year, we have a new group this year. The feeling is different in that we do have more players returning this year than we had last year,” Haith said. “Last year, Phil Pressey was the only player returning from the year before. That’s pretty unusual. Usually you have one starter returning, we had one player returning. This year we with Stefan (Jankovic) and Earnest (Ross) and Jabari (Brown), Ryan Rosburg, we have guys that were on the team last year that are back this year. That helps having those guys come back.”

That list doesn’t include Tony Criswell, Danny Feldmann and Corey Haith, which brings the total number of returning players to seven.

Staying with that theme, it’s the first time in Haith’s tenure the entire roster is littered with players he recruited.

Haith’s first season in 2011-12 featured a roster full of players left over from Mike Anderson’s stint as Missouri’s head coach. Last year’s squad showcased two holdovers from the Anderson era in Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers.

Now it’s all Haith’s guys, whether he admits it or not.

“From Day 1 when I got the job I thought this was our team,” he said. “I don’t really look at it that way or look at those things. That’s for you guys. I think for us to have the kind of team we wanted to have our first two years, we looked at those guys like they were our guys. This team is no different than our first-year team that we got or last year’s team. They’re our players.”

While a majority of last season’s newcomers hailed from other NCAA Division I programs — Alex Oriakhi (Connecticut), Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Jabari Brown (Oregon) — this year’s batch will feature just one. That would be Jordan Clarkson, a transfer from Tulsa. The rest of the eligible newcomers are either freshmen or junior-college transfers.

Yet that doesn’t change the expectations Haith has for the Missouri neophytes or his team as a whole.

“My expectations are for us to be successful and compete in postseason,” Haith said. “I think, as a coaching staff, we’re not going to waiver from that. The difference was those guys all were different roles at their previous institutions. They had to come in and buy into a role here, which is different. I think for the most part we did a good job with that and those guys did buy in.

“We still have guys, other than Jordan, we can shape them how their role would automatically fit in to what we’re trying to do. The freshmen and Keanu (Post) will be the only junior-college player we’ll have, and I think he’s going to do fine.”

While certainly less heralded, Haith is satisfied with this incoming recruiting class.

“Our goals are the same every year. I don’t think we’ll ever waver from that in terms of our recruiting, how we want to recruit. We want to get quality student-athletes that give us a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament and play in postseason and win games in postseason,” Haith said. “That’s our goal every year. We’re not backing off that for this year’s team. Now this year’s team, we only have two seniors. We have a lot of unproven.”

Those two seniors — Ross and Criswell — are only in their second year with the program. Regardless, the pair will be looked upon to provide valuable leadership to a young squad.

“I feel you still need that experience, that leadership from the seniors that have been through it for three or maybe four years,” Criswell said.

“Guys like me, Earnest, Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, us older guys, really we’re just showing (leadership) by working hard every day. The younger guys catch on real fast. It’s like a domino effect.”

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