Kim Anderson is happy with his incoming recruiting class and the energy it has brought to his team, the Missouri basketball coach said in a Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday.
"I actually think our younger guys have had a good, positive influence on our older guys, and I think our older guys have responded," Anderson said. "We hope that carries over. It's only been three weeks, so we've got a long way to go before we play a game."
The Tigers are currently nearing the halfway point of their four weeks of summer studies. All but one member of the six-man recruiting class - transfer Russell Woods is finishing up his junior-college studies - are with the team.
The group includes Terrence Phillips, a 5-foot-10 point guard from Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.); Kevin Puryear, a 6-7 power forward from Blue Springs South; Cullen Van Leer, a 6-4 shooting guard from Pacific; K.J. Walton, a 6-3 shooting guard from Brownsburg, Ind.; and 6-2 shooting guard Martavian Payne, who played at John A. Logan Community College with Woods, a 6-8 power forward.
"I guess very few coaches ever come on and say they didn't like their recruiting class, but these guys have really brought an energy level to our program and an exuberance," Anderson said. "They're guys that are in the gym all the time, and it's a good mix of guys."
Anderson said Phillips certainly embodies that energy level.
"He brings the ability to play north and south, which I think's important to our team, because I do think we've added some shooters that maybe we didn't have consistently a year ago," Anderson said. "The other thing is, he's a freshman, so I hesitate to use the term "leader,' but he's a guy who I think has leadership qualities."
Anderson highlighted VanLeer as "a guy who can really shoot the basketball," and described Payne as "a combo-type guard," and Puryear as a "rugged" player who can plan the 3 or 4 positions. Anderson said Woods will help inside and Walton, a late addition to the recruiting class, has proven to be a better player than expected.
The Tigers are coming off a 9-23 campaign in Anderson's first year as head coach at Missouri. Following the departure of 6-11 center Keanau Post to graduation and the transfer of 6-9 Johnathan Williams III - the team's leading scorer and rebounder last season - the Tigers might have little choice but to play small-ball this year.
"We have five freshmen now who are sophomores, who - I don't think it's any big secret - took their lumps last year, and I think they learned a lot and I think they'll be a great help for us," Anderson said. "Defensively, we'll be similar. We may change some things up a little bit, but I think the biggest change for us will have to be the ability to play a little bit smaller than maybe we did a year ago."
The Tigers are currently without one member of the returning sophomore class, Montaque Gill-Caesar. The guard, who led Missouri in scoring for much of its non-conference schedule, is still in his native Canada recovering from a back injury suffered in December. The injury plagued him for much of the season and led to his decision not to participate with the Canadian under-19 team this summer.
"He hurt it in December and it's been hard for him to be consistently healthy since," Anderson said. "I think he's had times when he felt well and then he's had times when he hasn't. The thing with the Canadian team ... I don't think he wanted to subject himself to that month of travel and playing a lot of games and a lot of practices in a short period of time. Probably long-term that was the best decision for him to try to continue to rest and rehabilitate that. We're hopeful that he'll get healthy."
Anderson said the plan is for Gill-Caesar to remain in Canada for the first four weeks of summer activities.
Also recovering from injury is Wes Clark, whose dislocated elbow caused him to miss the last eight games of the season. Anderson said the elbow has healed well.
"I think he still has some soreness, but I think that's pretty common for the type of injury that he had, so it's good to have him back," Anderson said. "He's a guy that is a junior and we're a young team ... so having that type of leadership back is really good."
Notes: Anderson spoke about the new proposal that would allow college underclassmen to return to school after declaring for the NBA draft. "I think it's good. The way it is now, I think, makes it really difficult for us as college coaches, and I think to give the kids all the information they ... can get so that they can make a good decision (is important). I've only been at Missouri for year, and obviously I haven't had anybody be involved with that yet, but just over time and watching not only our league but other leagues and kids that sometimes make uninformed decisions, I think this just gives them another opportunity to make a good decision." ... Georgia coach Mark Fox gave his take on the current state of Missouri basketball when he was asked about the depth of the SEC. "There's not a lot of programs in our conference right now that are rebuilding. I think that obviously when Kim Anderson came into Missouri last year, he had some rebuilding to do, but he's further down the road now and probably past that."