COLUMBIA, MO - MARCH 6, 2005: Jason Conley of Missouri gestures as he celebrates Missouri defeating Kansas on March 6, 2005 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. The Missiouri Tigers defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 72-68. - (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
From Bill: This was a good enough comment that I felt it deserved to stand alone. So we'll consider this CBonerfied's first official post as a Rock M author.
With the unfortunate departure of Mike Dixon, most of us (myself included) have anointed Jabari Brown as our "missing piece". But after some reflection, that’s both a) disingenuous and b) unreasonable, if you ask me. Let’s take a look at the four big mid-season additions to Missouri basketball over the last twenty years and see how Jabari's situation and potential impact may compare to theirs.
Showed up with about as little fanfare as possible. Pre-internet age, JUCO guy who famously (as legend has it) decided to attend Mizzou after watching us lose to Arkansas by 52. Turned out to be a HUGE contributor, and his addition helped solidify our veteran rotation and was a driving force behind what was, in my opinion, the best Tiger b-ball team ever. (Edit: As per the discussion below, his second season was even better than the first. We would be lucky if Jabari follows the same trajectory as O'Liney.)
EXPECTATIONS: Low to Moderate (well-regarded JUCO before prospect rankings took on their own life)
POSITIONAL NEED IN DEBUT SEASON: Moderate (there was a LOT of depth on the 1993-94 team, but they did need a steady offensive player to complement Melvin Booker)
This was a HUGE get for Mizzou. A McDonald’s All-American who decided to transfer from one block M uniformed school to the other (oh, wait, by then we had decided to move on to the worst uniforms in Mizzou basketball history). The team that Albert debuted on had Kelly Thames and then…Tyron Lee and John Woods as the next best offensive players. Yikes. White would average 11 points and 5 rebounds that first year, his Sophomore year, which culminated in an NIT berth. He followed an impressive debut season with an All-Big 12 first team campaign where he averaged 16.3 points and almost 9 rebounds a game. The second-highest scorer on that team averaged 12 points. Albert was forced into playing as a 6’5" power forward for most of that season, which seems to be a recurring problem in the University of Missouri’s basketball history. Unfortunately, Albert declared for the draft after his Junior year and never caught on in the Association. He was the best player (by far) on a team that broke a three year spell of no NCAA tourney berths.
POSITIONAL NEED IN DEBUT SEASON: High--Kelly Thames, Monte Hardge (!), and...no one else in the front court
IMPACT: Very high.
Paul O'Liney and Albert White represent the ceiling for Tiger mid-season transfers; we would all be very lucky if Jabari had a similar impact on the Tiger program, as it could lead to a VERY special season this year and provide scoring continuity for the future, especially with so many personnel losses upcoming after this season. Now, let's examine the other end of the spectrum.
Like Jabari, a Mac-Do All-Murican from California. Travon was a huge recruiting coup for Quin Snyder in the class of 2000--but his academic eligibility was held up by the NCAA until after the first semester had ended. His debut season saw him struggle to adjust, averaging only 13 minutes a game and less than 4 points and 4 rebounds per. He wound up spending his entire Mizzou career overshadowed by his less heralded yet insanely productive class and front court mate, Arthur Johnson. Travon would steadily progress throughout his career, peaking at 11 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in his senior season (for the most disappointing Tiger basketball team of all time…shudder…get that season out of my head). But he was never more than a bit player for three pretty good Tiger teams and one abjectly terrible one.
POSITIONAL NEED IN DEBUT SEASON: Moderate to High (TJ Soyoye, Dock Johnson, and a miscast Johnnie Parker in the front court)
IMPACT: Low in his first season, Moderate for a career
This might be the worst-case scenario, but if the worst-case scenario is a decent contributor for his entire career, eh, I guess that isn’t so bad. Five star recruits should make a much bigger impact, though.
"The nation’s leading scorer as a Freshman from VMI!" I reminded myself of this fact A LOT around the time that Jason was about to become eligible as a Tiger. It was really exciting to imagine what he could do at Mizzou, especially playing in a secondary role alongside Rickey Paulding, Arthur Johnson, Jimmy McKinney, and Travon Bryant. (Plus Freshmen Linas Kleiza and Thomas Gardner…that was an insanely talented team…shudder…get that season out of my head.) Unfortunately, the gap between the Big South conference and the Big 12 was, well, enormous. Jason’s career was similar to Travon Bryant’s in that it was never quite bad, it just wasn’t good enough to match the expectations. Averaged 7.6 points in his half-season as a Junior and a shade over 10 a game as a Senior, but he never was the shooter that the Tigers needed (42 and 44 percent overall in his two years, 34 and 35 from 3) and wasn’t all that strong as a ball-handler or distributor. It turned out that having a three-guard lineup absent of a true point guard or a consistent outside shooter doesn't lead to a cohesive offense. Who would have thought?
POSITIONAL NEED IN DEBUT SEASON: Quite Low (he was almost a basketball double of Jimmy McKinney, and both paled in comparison to Rickey Paulding's athletic abilities)
IMPACT: Let’s generously say moderate.
As already pointed out, Jason and his teammates fell prey to having the same style of player playing at three spots on the court at once; athletic shooting guards, not great outside shooters, all preferring to drive over spot-up shooting, absent a true point guard. This goes to show that ultimately, the building of a successful college basketball program starts with the head coach's planning abilities and philosophy, and Quin preferred to assemble talent rather than complimentary pieces. Poor Arthur Johnson…you were really, really good.
So where does that leave Jabari? He certainly comes highly regarded, and by all descriptions, our need for someone at his position is moderate to high at this point in time--more because of his advertised skill set rather than a need for "just" any 2 guard. HOWEVER…let’s make a note that this is already a pretty decent basketball team without him. PLUS, and this is a large caveat, he has played in TWO games at the college level. For all intents and purposes, he’s playing in his first college action in the next week and a half. While it would most certainly be nice if he is a Paul O'Liney clone with an impact similar to Albert White, we should prepare ourselves for a Travon-like learning curve, especially noting the team’s current depth throughout the roster. Based on his position and our team's needs, I believe he will have a similar line to what Jason Conley put together in his first season—-7 pts per sounds about right—-but to think that the fate of the season (or, better put, the ceiling of the season) hinges on him, those expectations are too burdensome. If he can come in and stabilize the rotation in the way that Paul O’Liney did, and provide a tangible bridge for future seasons (instead of a hypothetical one), that would be the optimal team scenario.