One of the great aerial acrobats in Missouri history, 6’5" Rickey Paulding came to Columbia from Detroit and made an immediate impression with his extreme athleticism. In his sophomore season, Paulding helped key Mizzou’s run to the 2002 Elite Eight, earning a spot on the All-West Regional team after leading the Tigers with an 18.3 point average in their four NCAA Tournament games. The next season, after the departures of Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert, Paulding became Missouri’s dominant offensive player, averaging 17.4 points on the year. He capped his junior season with a remarkable 36-point performance in an overtime loss to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In his senior year, Paulding averaged 15.1 points per game and wrapped up his career with 1,673 points, good for ninth place on the Tigers’ all-time list.
Linas Kleiza (2003-05)
His time in Columbia may have been brief, and Mizzou's performance may have been disappointing while he was here, but Linas Kleiza lived up to most of his five-star billing in two years. Mixing a small forward's agility with a center's brute strength, Kleiza was one of the more unique recent Mizzou stars. He was supposed to be the missing piece on the 2003-04 team that started the season ranked in the top five, and while the team underachieved, Kleiza averaged 11 PPG and 8 RPG in an injury-shortened season. After the departure of Arthur Johnson, Travon Bryant and Rickey Paulding, Kleiza gave Mizzou's 2004-05 NIT team star power, averaging 16 PPG and 8 RPG. Against 1st-place Oklahoma in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, Kleiza was amazing. He scored 33 points (he went a staggering 17-for-19 from the free throw line) and grabbing 7 boards in a near-upset. He declared for the NBA draft after his sophomore year and was drafted in the first round. Honestly, his resume is no worse than Keyon Dooling's, but his two-year stay was marred by team disappointment. That shouldn't take away from the perceptions of his own quality of play. He was a bull with finesse, and he was very fun to watch.
J.T. Tiller (2006-10)
It just wouldn't have felt right using a picture of Tiller on offense. Mike Anderson's first four-year recruit at Missouri, Tiller was the quintessential Anderson player. He played outstanding defense (2009 Big 12 Defensive Co-Player of the Year), scored key points (with an injured wrist, he scored 23 points in the 2009 Sweet Sixteen against Memphis), and exchanged skin for floor burns in every square inch of Norm Stewart Court. Tiller lacked natural offensive talent, but the effort level he showed in every second on the court was inspirational for teammates and fans, and off-putting for opponents. You weren't comfortable when Jesus Tyrannosaurus was on the court with you, and his growth from energy guy and role player to starter and difference-maker on teams that won four NCAA Tournament games in two seasons was both unlikely and fun as hell to watch. His was the perfect blue-collar mentality, and he was one of Mizzou fans' favorite recent players.
Marcus Denmon (2008-12)
For four years, Marcus Denmon was whatever Missouri needed him to be. A defensive specialist during Missouri's 2008-09 run, Denmon averaged nearly a steal per game in minimal minutes. A 3-point specialist in 2009-10, he nailed 41 percent of his long-range shots and threw in defense and three rebounds per game. And in two years as his team's heart and soul, he averaged 17 points per game in 2010-11 and 18 points per game in 2011-12. He played hurt, he finished in traffic, he made 42 percent of his 3-pointers over his last two seasons, and he mastered the art of The Moment, especially at Mizzou Arena, where his steal and and-one against Vanderbilt won a key game early in his junior season, and where he nearly blew the roof off with his nine points in 60 seconds late against Kansas. From March:
As difficult as 2010-11 was for everyone associated with the Missouri basketball program, it was doubly hard for Marcus Denmon, who had to deal with excruciating personal loss (the shooting death of his cousin) for virtually the entire season. We almost know less about Denmon's story than we do about anybody else's in this storied class. All we know is, life has occasionally been quite difficult for this senior from Kansas City, and life has been infinitely more rewarding for all Missouri fans because he chose to play his college ball here. He doesn't speak, and he rarely smiles; all he does is score, hit the ground, and, quite simply, lead. His legacy was already undeniable before he scored nine points in a minute against Kansas, and before he all but gave Mizzou a Kansas sweep in Lawrence. This team is great because it doesn't need him to come up big in every game, but when they have needed Marcus to come through, he has.
Kim English (2008-12)
Kim English scored over 1,500 points and made almost 250 3-pointers in his career in a Missouri uniform, but he will be remembered as much for what he accomplished off the court, serving as thoughtful spokesperson and personality for the Missouri basketball program, as what he accomplished on it. That said, he was pretty damn good at the game of basketball. He forever defined himself as part of Mizzou's history with his incredible performance against Marquette in his first NCAA Tournament, and he was named the most valuable player of his final Big 12 Tournament. Whatever Mizzou accomplishes moving forward, English helped to set the table. Again from March:
A once-precocious freshman, destined to become an all-time Mizzou great, Kim English spent 12 months struggling, disappearing at key times, and weighing the thought of finishing his Missouri story after just three years. Now, he is averaging 15 points per game and coming off of the best weekend of his Mizzou career. He has gone from outspoken to thoughtful, from a points-only contributor to a master of little things, a 48-percent 3-point shooter and a masterful drawer of charges. He has been so important to this season's success that Mizzou fans have openly wondered if Frank Haith will include an "English 4" in his lineups well into the future.
1. SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 23, 2002: Rickey Paulding #23 of the Missouri Tigers goes in for a slam dunk during the West Regional Final of the 2002 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Oklahoma Sooners on March 23, 2002 at Compaq Center in San Jose, California. The Sooners won 81-75. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
2. COLUMBIA, MO - MARCH 6, 2005: Linas Kleiza #41 of Missouri gestures as he celebrates after he makes a free throw in the final mintues of the game on March 6, 2005 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. The Missiouri Tigers defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 72-68. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
3. COLUMBIA, MO - FEBRUARY 09, 2009: Mario Little #23 of the Kansas Jayhawks battles J.T. Tiller #4 of the Missouri Tigers for a loose ball during the game on February 9, 2009 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
4. COLUMBIA, MO - FEBRUARY 04, 2012: Marcus Denmon #12 of the Missouri Tigers shoots past Elijah Johnson #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the first half at Mizzou Arena on February 4, 2012 in Columbia, Missouri. Missouri won 74-71. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
5. BOISE, ID - MARCH 22, 2009: Forward Kim English #24 of the Missouri Tigers takes a shot against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Taco Bell Arena on March 22, 2009 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)