On Saturday afternoon, Mizzou basketball fans got their first look at the 2023-24 squad in-person, as the Tigers hosted an open practice at Mizzou Arena. Here were some notes on the practice in sequential order.
12:30: We arrived! Sections 112-116 were open to fans, which seemed pretty full for an open practice. Despite a social media post indicating future plans to re-paint the Mizzou Arena seats black, only the upper deck seats and student section are black. The lower level seats are still yellow.
12:38: Stretching began. Coach Gates thanked the fans for showing up as well as Desiree Reed-Francois, who’s also in attendance. Kobe Brown was there too, sitting off to the side.
12:40: The stretching was upbeat. Very coherent. Lots of clapping and cheering.
12:45: Drills start. First up: 5-on-0 half court sets. Groups of five rotated in and out, running through Gates’ Princeton offense.
12:51: The squad then started working on individual defensive rotations with a closeout drill. Players would form into groups of four under the basket, and each player would close out to a “shooter” on the perimeter, help in the passing lane and defend the backdoor cut. Whenever someone made a mistake, the coaches blew their whistles and made that player’s group start the drill over. Instead of defeated silence, however, the whole team responded to the whistles by clapping, looking to encourage their teammates. No one ever seemed to get down on themselves; they simply moved on.
12:56: 3-on-2 fastbreak drill. Assistants played defense and were going 50%. However, there were still a few things to take away.
- There were a handful of fantastic extra passes from the wing to the corner that created open triples.
- This drill was a reminder that Aidan Shaw can still fly.
- Like last season, the transition game is an area where Mizzou can really bury teams. All indicators point to the Tigers continuing to try turning basketball games into track meets.
- Most of the team looked relatively comfortable handling the ball in transition. Obviously, some look more comfortable than others, but the amount of players that didn’t look like a fish out of water leading the charge in transition was impressive.
1:02: One side of the court began a 4-on-3 drill (four offense, three defense). The other side was doing the drive-kick-swing-shoot drill Mizzou does before every game. After a few minutes, both halves switched sides.
- There was a lot of proactive ball movement and off-ball cutting, which was great to see. Like last season, quick passing and smart cutting is going to be paramount for success offensively for the Tigers. After losing Kobe Brown, D’Moi Hodge, DeAndre Gholston and Isiaih Mosley, questions still loom about who’s going to take on the scoring load for Mizzou this season. Those questions can be partially answered if the Tigers continue to swing and cut at a high level so no single player has to bear an overly large scoring burden.
- Sean East II looked noticeably more confident handling the ball; he’s got a little Bones Hyland in him. Everything was done with confidence and flair. He always seemed to make the right read. Also, the one-handed fastball passes never left.
1:12: Another transition drill. Free throw into a 2-on-1, then a 3-on-2, then a 4-on-3, then a 5-on-4, then a 5-on-5
- Caleb Grill was money from downtown during this drill.
- East also looked really comfortable on defense, with the most noticeable aspect being him knowing his personnel. As the lone defender during a 2-on-1 with Shaw on offense, East immediately guarded Shaw to prevent an alley-oop rather than picking up the ball-handler.
1:19: Swinging drill. Ball started at elbow. One offensive player was on the wing, another was in the corner, and one defender stood between both of them. The player at the elbow would pass it to either the wing or the corner, in which the ball became live.
- Just as how most of the team can handle the ball well in transition, most everyone can let it fly from downtown. While some are more threatening than others, most everyone has to at least be respected.
- This is where I noticed that most of the practice had been Mizzou working on odd-man situations, which I liked a lot. Considering that Mizzou plans to play at a blistering pace once again, odd-man situations are likely going to present themselves frequently like last season.
1:27: While the team briefly worked on help defense under the rim, then assistant coaches thanked the fans for showing up during a water break.
- The defensive rotations were excellent; there were very few miscommunications. The passing lanes were well-defended.
- Connor Vanover is going to be a major deterrent around the basket with his mere presence. He prevented multiple drivers from even attempting layups.
- Tamar Bates shot the ball really well during this drill.
- Nick Honor accidentally tackled Anthony Robinson and the entire team went to help Robinson up.
- John Butler stonewalled Noah Carter on a dunk attempt.
- Jackson Francois and Kaleb Brown (who were playing defense) dove for a loose ball at the same time that fired up the team and ended the drill.
1:46: 4-on-4-on-4 (three teams of four. Two teams play each other on one side of the court. If the offense scores, they play offense on the other end. If the defense gets a stop, they play offense on the other end)
- Vanover played well on both ends. He was a major threat as the roll man in the pick-and-roll.
- Gates told the entire crowd that Bates needs to shoot the ball after he traveled on a pump fake and drive.
- Gates mentioned how no one was complaining about whistles (assistant coaches had been refereeing the mini-scrimmages). He mentioned how players get technical fouls in practice if they argue with a whistle. He then told the crowd that it’s up to them to annoy the refs when the season comes around, which got a laugh out of everyone.
- Grill showed very proactive relocation skills on the perimeter.
- Jesus Carralero had a mini-takeover. Started with a nice drive and finish, then nutmegged a defender on a pass for a layup, then converted another drive and finish
- Jordan Butler glassed Carralero. His rim protection was fun to watch on Saturday.
- The winning team has to shoot 80% or better from the line on five attempts in order to validate the win, according to Gates. If they don’t, the second place team wins. Kaleb Brown missed the first free throw, then the next three were made. Trent Pierce needed to make a free throw to seal the win...and missed.
2:04: Players introduced themselves to the crowd
- Gates told the crowd to tell Bates to shoot the ball.
- East picked off a pass from Shaw in the backcourt, then dished a sweet drop-off dime to Noah Carter for a dunk.
- Honor’s pump fakes are lethal. He got Carter way up in the air with one and drilled a pull up jumper.
- Trent Pierce has some serious hops.
- Grill has been making hustle plays all practice, especially on the glass.
- Honor has been directing traffic on offense the whole time.
- Touchdown passes off of made baskets haven’t gone away.
- Honor’s been shooting the ball from deep with a lot of confidence.
- Anthony Robinson, Trent Pierce and Jordan Butler all looked super comfortable.
- The amount of communication amongst players during drills was astonishing. Francois was the most vocal throughout the entire practice.
2:30: Practice ended
- Gates announced the team is going to Jamaica on Sunday, where they’ll play games and undergo team building activities.
- Noah Carter drilled a half court shot to conclude the afternoon.
About two hours after practice ended, Bud’s BBQ in downtown Columbia hosted a “send off” for Kobe Brown, who’s set to begin training camp soon with the Los Angeles Clippers. Most of the team showed up to Bud’s, and Brown made himself available for pictures and autographs.
Brown also spoke to a few members of the media who were at Bud’s about the practice, Mizzou basketball and his future in L.A. He expressed excitement about this year’s MU squad and complimented the fan engagement. He raved about former teammate D’Moi Hodge’s performance during NBA Summer League, and he also raved about the consistently beautiful weather in L.A. Most of all, he seemed eager to begin a new chapter of his basketball career with the Clippers.