With the exception of Michael Porter Jr.’s “I’m Coming Home” tweet [sighs pensively], no 2017 commitment was as objectively fun as Jeremiah Tilmon’s. The blue-chip center was a longtime Illinois commit, but momentum shifted once East St. Louis legend Cuonzo Martin strutted into Columbia with more swagger than Vince McMahon. Things went silent for a few weeks before Tilmon made it official to Missouri, infecting Illini twitter with an unsightly bout of, “Not Mad! Actually Laughing!” syndrome.
#23 Jeremiah Tilmon
6'10" 252 lbs
Still, Tilmon’s commitment came with a few concerns. National writers questioned his effort due to some less-than-eye-popping numbers during his senior year. Before the season even started, he found himself in some minor off-the-court trouble. And, as you’ll read below, freshmen bigs often have a longer adjustment period than other recruits. The potential was there for Tilmon to be an immediate impact, he was just less a sure thing than Michae... you know what, never mind.
When the season started, the big question was what exactly Missouri would get from Tilmon. How does his season as a whole compare with what you were expecting?
Sam Snelling: I don’t think anyone could expect the sheer number of fouls, but from an athleticism and skill standpoint, Tilmon was right about what I remembered when I watched him in high school. His feet and hands were always plusses, but the big issue for Tilmon was always if he could play with consistent effort. And as we saw, I don’t think his effort was ever a problem. Tilmon, like a lot of young bigs, had a learning curve on how to play physical without committing useless fouls. There are many fouls which are understandable and unavoidable, but so many of Tilmon's fouls were avoidable. With experience, Tilmon should be able to cut back on a lot of these fouls. And if he can maintain his levels of production, I think you’ll have a stalwart in the paint for a lot of years to come.
Going forward, I’d like to see Tilmon expand his game just a bit. Learn to be a little better with the ball, particularly passing out of the post. And be a little better from the mid-range. If he shores up those two areas and cuts back on fouls, you have an All-SEC caliber post player.
Matt Harris: When I fire up the tape of a recruit, I always wonder how closely it mirrors reality. With Tilmon, though, what you saw from him at East St. Louis clearly mapped over to his time at Mizzou: stellar athleticism, superb hands, great timing on his initial and second jump and, when locked in, a motor that runs a tad too hot. But I learned to live with the fouls and occasionally rushed post move because Tilmon, pardon my language, gave a damn.
For a guy whose chief knock was a lack of effort, Tilmon tended to give MU his best effort. Over the course of the season, his foul rate ebbed as he mastered the basics of positional defense and gauging when to chase blocks. At some point, too, you hope he sheds a rep that would turn borderline calls against him. We often talk about how players make their biggest strides in the summer between the freshman and sophomore seasons, and I think we’ll see a Tilmon who’s at the height of his powers next year.
What’s asked of Tilmon offensively next year may be different, too. There may be more actions — outside of setting a single high ball-screen — where he serves a roll man and can use his hands to snare passes and finish on the move. The addition of a true point guard would also have a trickle-down effect for the big man. MU could call on larger portions of its playbook, using actions where Tilmon spends more time operating in the high post and requires him to refine his feel for high-low passing, handoffs to cutting wings and, yes, drive the ball from the nail. And maybe he could refine a face-up jumper, which would allow him to be a factor in roll-and-replace actions the Tigers used out of its Horns series this season.
Tilmon flashed so much of what makes his potential as frustrating as it is alluring, but with a productive summer, Mizzou might have an athletic and mobile post who’s at ease all over the floor and a nightmare for opponents on the defensive end.
Tashan Reed: It didn’t shock me to see Jeremiah Tilmon impose his size and athleticism on both ends of the floor... or have an erratic year in terms of production. What absolutely floored me and drew a few unprofessional reactions from the press box were his footwork and post moves. Tilmon already has a more polished low-post game than some guys in the NBA, and that’s not an overreaction. You just don’t see that from 19-year-olds too often. Tilmon flashed his pro-potential with several strong performances in non-conference play: 14 points and seven rebounds against Iowa State; 13 and five against Emporia State; 14 and seven against UCF; and 12 and 11 against Green Bay.
He hit a wall and had to adjust in SEC play, but this was where he had his best performance of the year. Tilmon was dominant in the regular-season finale against Arkansas, scoring a career-high 17 points to go with eight boards. He also made seven of nine free throws, showing how scary he can be when teams can’t just use a hack-a-Tilmon strategy. It was only right that he fell victim to some of the demons that had plagued him all year in the same contest. Tilmon nearly fouled out again, picking up four fouls, and committed four turnovers. He put forth back-to-back forgettable efforts and fouled out against both Georgia and Florida State to end the season.
I’d say Tilmon slightly exceeded my expectations for him this year, but his decision making in terms of fouling nearly negated it. Tilmon clearly has the talent, size, and length to be a force in the SEC, but he can’t show it if he isn’t on the floor. He simply has to be smarter and more aware of his body if he’s going to maximize his potential at Mizzou.
Josh Matejka: To be quite honest, I probably had lower expectations than most. Pretty much everyone in this post is talking about how big of a learning curve freshmen posts go through, and we already had a sense Tilmon would struggle with fouls. I didn’t expect him to be absent for most games, but I was expecting more of a rim running, shot altering guy who would give you inconsistent minutes.
What Missouri got was a much more complete package. When Tilmon was on the floor - yeah, the fouls were a well-founded concern - he showed he could be a dominant offensive presence. He’s already got a nice variety of post moves and shots, and he even showed a willingness to shoot mid-range jumpers. Tilmon excelled when refs let the game be a little more physical, mostly because he’s a lot bigger and faster than most people on the court. Unfortunately, he couldn’t contain that dominance against more experienced teams who were looking to draw fouls against him.
If Tilmon can get stronger, further refine his offensive weapons, and just cut back on fouls, he might only have one more year in Columbia.
Chris Bohkay: It’s difficult to really answer this question the minute MPJ went down because that really re-adjusted everyone’s roles and time on the floor. But for me, he played pretty much as I expected a freshman big to play. When looking at freshmen coming in, the positions that typically have the highest learning curve when it comes to what you can and can’t do are point guard and those that play in the traditional 5. Blake Harris (when he was playing) had trouble not committing fouls - same with Wes Clark before him - and as it was for Jeremiah, the whistle was always in the background. Would he be able to stay on the floor? Would the refs let him play? Would he pick up two quick ones in the first 5-7 minutes that would hinder his game? It was a constant battle for him, finding that right spot about where he could play within the confines that the refs set that day, which was random at times.
We saw what he could do when given the opportunity against Arkansas - 17 and eight - and I’ll take that any day. I think it’s what we can expect from him next year as well. But he played as I thought he would. He’d have big games, and then games where he just couldn’t get into a rhythm and would essentially kind of ghost. I really can’t wait to see what he can do next year and hopefully the year after that, because if he can figure out how to play without fouling (which he showed at times he could), this team’s ceiling for next year, even with the losses it takes on the wings, grows exponentially.
Catch up on the rest of our postseason player analysis pieces: