Call it a gut punch, an eye roll, or whatever you want. But when Jamarion Sharp announced he would be returning to Western Kentucky after a short visit into the transfer portal a good portion of the offseason plans for the Missouri Tigers 2022-23 season went out the window.
Sharp opting not to join his former Junior College coach in Columbia hurts. His rim protection coupled with the current roster would have made the Tigers a fierce and tough defensive basketball team. So while we should be a little concerned about their shooting, a defense anchored by Sharp — with Cleveland State holdovers and athletic length like Mohamed Diarra and Aidan Shaw — could be enough to get the revamped roster onto the NCAA bubble.
But that’s not happening. So now Dennis Gates and his newly assembled staff have to pivot. Losing Sharp changes expectations on next season. Instead of the NCAA tournament, more reasonable expectations can be set even without the roster being finished.
But whether or not Sharp chose Mizzou was never going to determine Gates level of success at Mizzou. Cuonzo Martin landed the nations top overall recruit in his first spring and he was still fired after five seasons. Dennis Gates, and by association his associate head coach CY Young, are going to determine their level of success in Columbia over the next 2-3 recruiting classes are going to do that.
Hopefully there is a lesson in the Sharp saga.
Missouri is a unique place. That uniqueness can provide both opportunity and obstacle. And you have to be able to show the opportunity while overcoming the obstacles. Mizzou coaches thought they had Sharp in the bag and he never made it to campus. They couldn’t overcome the obstacle of getting Sharp to Columbia, whatever that might be. But in the first real failure you hope the staff will be able to assess what went wrong and hopefully gain a better understanding of where they are.
Mizzou basketball success over the last 20-25 years has come in a variety of forms. From the Quin Snyder teams loaded with experience and talent, to the Mike Anderson teams who had more developmental pieces and under the radar recruits. Even Martin’s successful teams used transfers and local talent to get into the NCAA Tournament. So what kind of recipe is going to work for Gates and Young?
At Florida State both coaches were accustomed to being able to reel in top level talent on a nearly annual basis. The early offer lists seems ambitious. And while it’s exciting to talk about players like Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon, or Scottie Barnes, or any of the early 5-star offers with ties to CY who Missouri has already offered… I’m more intrigued by how Gates and CY can locate the next Devin Vassell or Raiquan Gray. I think it’s a lot easier to attract a 5-star player who’s spent his life in the Southeastern part of the country to a place like Tallahassee than convincing one to spend their winters in a place where it gets quite cold.
Identifying the middle of the road prospects with high ceilings, guys like Marcus Denmon, Demarre Carroll, or Laurence Bowers, is where you end up elevating Missouri. Finding that roster balance where you can have the types of players with high ceilings who stick around might be more difficult in the era of the transfer portal and NIL, but while most of College Basketball seems to be up in arms with movement good programs are still keeping players around.
So while it feels a lot like things are wild in college basketball, the recipe for success remains the same. Identify and develop talent, turn that talent into pros, and win before they leave for the NBA. Some roster turnover is good, as long as your most talented guys aren’t leaving on an annual basis.
Jamarion Sharp represented a stop gap. Importing players from Cleveland State represent a patch. But guys like Mohamed Diarra and Aidan Shaw are where the keys for the future of the program lie. Gates and CY are tasked with identifying the talent which will see the Mizzou Basketball program have success in 2024, and hopefully 2028 and 2032. There are two roster spots to fill for next season, but a lot more over the next few years which will shape how successful Dennis Gates can be here at Mizzou.