It seemed like a simple enough request: "I'd like to go to the open practice at Mizzou Arena at 2:30..." but then my mouth kept moving. It really meant well. "...I don't have to be there right at 2:30; practice goes until 4:30." I am sure that my mouth was thinking that "not right at 2:30" would mean like 2:45 or so. Lesson learned.
I got into Mizzou Arena a little after 3:30. The number of people watching was surprising to me. I could have found a seat in the lower level, but I decided to check out the perspective from my newly acquired season tickets, so I went up the stairs and took a seat. The team had just started 5-minute sessions of black/gold scrimmage which was a lot of fun to watch. The energy is extremely high and coaching mostly happens on the fly. Predictably, the onus is put squarely on pushing the tempo. Over the course of the scrimmages that filled most of the time that I was watching, I think that CMA really only completely stopped play once, and that was to threaten to kick someone out of the scrimmage if they didn't start moving. More on that one later. I figure that the best way for me to get my thoughts out is to put them up in quasi-list form. I'll try to keep it concise and focused, but I make no guarantees.
We had all heard quite a bit about Big Steve's summer and the work he was putting in. Early on, it was clearly evident. He was matched up with Ricardo Ratliffe in this particular session and really held his own. Steve's body position looked to be much better, and to quote Happy Gilmore, "Uh-oh. Steve learned some post moves!" Highlight: Steve took the ball on a typical quasi-entry pass, that is to say kind of in that 15-foot area from the basket. What happened next? Steve backed RR in towards the hoop and then absolutely abused RR with a drop-step turn move to the basket. Bad part? Steve ended up too far beneath the basket to finish, so he had to kick it out. BUT... that was a FINE welcome to 2010-2011 basketball. Not long after, Steve turned his ankle challenging for a rebound, and he looked a lot less effective after that. Maybe it was still sore.
Marcus Denmon was on fire from outside. He was draining them like crazy from the left-wing in the run of play.
Ricky Kreklow was matched up with Kimmie in this session... defense-wise, he held his own. Kimmie's shot looks "Puuuuuuuuuure"... which I mention for the Gus Johnson reference and as a positive sign on early returns. Back to Ricky-- he was struggling with his shot throughout. He was on the receiving end of a "coaching opportunity" from CMA for taking a pretty ill-advised shot from 3 at the left wing-- but he was two good steps away from the arc with no one on him. Lesson: Take the time to step forward, or move the ball. Several other times, Ricky would chuck them up from a couple steps further back than he needed to. I don't know if he's got a sweet spot there and it just wasn't working, or if he needs to have it pounded into his head to get those steps forward.
John Underwood, he of "He gained 20 pounds!" honestly looks like he could gain 30 more without adverse effect. He pulled down a few good rebounds, but stood out most for fouling the shiny new point guard. Off of a turn over Phil Pressey was without the ball and breaking to the hoop-- it was kind of a 2 v 1.5 as there was one defender in position and Underwood hustling back on a diagonal from a little more towards the side line. Ball goes to Pressey who goes up for a lay-up as Underwood gets there and gets Phil pretty hard-- I couldn't tell if the end result was a weird landing on an arm or wrist or if Pressey hit his head in the landing. Either way, he was back in pretty quick. It looks like Underwood is probably another year from contributing in a mid- to major role.
The Presseys looked pretty good. It took me a while (embarassingly) to figure out who Matt was, so I don't have as much to say about him. He didn't stick out much either way. Phil has a pretty commanding presence when he has the ball. I don't know how accurate my overall impression of him is due to the fact that he seemed to be looking for opportunities to dunk for the crowd. He missed on two or three attempts. I doubt that his first instinct in game situations is going to be to dunk... so I don't know how much "game smarts" were on display.
Mike Dixon. I still like Mike A lot. Based on nothing, I feel like he's going to step up and be major for us this year. He was the one, though, that CMA threatened to kick out of the scrimmage for not being active on the defensive end. "Get on outta here! If you're not gonna move, get out," was the quote as best I can remember it. It was rewarded with a nice steal and finish at the other end. Overall, I think we're going to be treated to more of the defense that we've grown used to. Lots and lots of arms in the passing lanes.
Ricardo Ratliffe - It was practice... but the eye-test says that this guy is going to bring several things that we've been thirsting for since the departure of JYD and Leo. He knows how to get himself free down low and isn't afraid to call for the ball when he gets there. He goes strong to the glass on both ends. It did seem that as it got to the later sessions of scrimmage he may have been a little gassed-- slow getting back on defense... but by the same token he made 15-of-16 free throws in the first shooting drill after all of the scrimmage was done, so maybe he wasn't as tired as it felt like.
Laffy Saffy and Party Starter both looked solid... Justin's jumper looks as sweet as it ever did and he didn't seem to be suffering any lingering problems from his knee. Disturbingly, he did have some of the same problems finishing at the hoop. Here's hoping that doesn't rear its ugly head again when Big XII season rolls around. No highlight reel jams from Party Starter, but his mid-range jumper didn't look as problematic as it has sometimes. I think that both of these guys are going to benefit from not having to post up-- if Steve's progress is what it looks like and RR continues to get more comfortable (which should be a given), they're going to be freed up to function well within their comfort zones, and I think that the team is going to be much better for it. (See 08-09 Saffy v. 09-10 Saffy)
Overall, I think that there is a lot to look forward to. The ball movement across the board was just smarter. The new pieces in relation to the whole really look to have upgraded the whole. I know I missed a lot... it's hard for me to try to watch and care about 10 players at a time instead of 5 :) At any rate, that's what I saw and noticed conveyed to the best of my ability, for what it's worth.