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Is T.O. Barrett the next lockdown defender for Mizzou?

The combo guard embraces tough matchups, which could help him carve out a role for the Tigers as his jumper and ball handling improve.

On July 5, Mokan Elite coasted to a 67-55 win over New York Renaissance at Peach Jam, the capstone to Nike’s EYBL circuit. That night, combo guard T.O. Barrett’s stat line didn’t leap off the page. In 17 minutes, he scored two points, grabbed five rebounds, and handed out just one assist.

In real-time, the nation’s No. 93 recruit went just 1 of 3 from the floor. A one-handed bullet pass fired at a cutting John Bol flew out of bounds. And an attempt to split a pair of defenders instead triggered a runout the other way.

And it qualified as his best performance of the week. Checking Dylan Harper, the nation’s top recruit, certainly meets the criteria.

It also began early. A minute into the game, Barrett cut off Harper driving from the right corner forcing a double dribble. On the next trip, Harper tried to exploit Barrett alone in the slot. Instead, Barrett used his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame to nudge and bump Harper while John Bol rotated over. As Harper tried to gather for a floater, Barrett tore the ball away and watched it roll off Harper’s leg and out of bounds.

Rens tried to put its star in dribble handoffs only to see Harper settled for a contested jumper. Trotting out a stacked pick-and-roll failed. And even a basic spread pick-and-roll in the third quarter saw Barrett strip Harper again. While Harper finished with 16 points, he only tallied six with Barrett tracking him.

“T.O. was in that dude’s face every time he caught the ball,” Mokan Elite coach Dave Milliren said. “He was physical with him. He made him work for every catch. He made him do extra stuff. That’s T.O. buying into his role.”

It’s also a task Barrett heartily embraces. That week, he drew the likes of Tre Johnson, Jalil Bethea – two of the best scoring guards on Nike’s EYBL circuit — and Kiyan Anthony. And none of them were assigned tasks. “I told the coaches I wanted those guys,” Barrett said.

Undoubtedly, Barrett, who committed to Missouri on June 29, faces a developmental checklist that includes sharpening his ball-handling and stabilizing his jumper. It’s also likely Barrett, who averaged 15.5 points and 4.1 rebounds at Edmond (Okla.) North, starts his career playing off the ball. But there’s no question what his calling card should be.

“I just don’t think there are that many kids that truly love to compete on the defensive end anymore,” said Edmond North Coach Scott Norris. “He wanted to do it all the time.”


What does Barrett bring on defense?

A year ago, Barrett jumped to Mokan from Team Griffin, joining a grassroots program that counts Trae Young, DaJuan Harris and Kennedy Chandler as alumni. At times, it’s required the Kansas City-based outfit to deftly split the role of point guard – and the minutes that come with them.

This spring, the arithmetic proved more complex.

The three-time Peach Jam champions already had succession plans in place. Curtis Givens, ranked 58th in 247Sports’ composite index, was coming off a stellar campaign at prep powerhouse Montverde. He’s also comfortable spending time at combo guard. So is Barrett. Under that setup, the tandem would have passed the role back and forth.

Then there’s Aaron Rowe. The Columbia native projects as one of the country’s top point guards in the 2025 class, and he spent his sophomore season as a productive depth piece on a stacked roster at Link Academy. With Rowe’s development tracking ahead of schedule, Mokan moved him up a grade level on Nike’s EYBL circuit.

For Milliren, who was in his first season as head coach, accommodating the aspirations of all three lead guards might have been his trickiest act to pull off. “I was like, ‘Shoot, these guys gotta play together,’” Milliren said. “How is this going to work?”

By the end of minicamps, Milliren and his assistants sketched a solution: shuffling Barrett between three spots on the perimeter. During a sitdown, Milliren also told Barrett he needed a stopper to check the opponent’s top option. Taking on that role meant embracing a compromise: less time orchestrating Mokan’s offense.

“T.O. was our best defender,” Milliren said. “I didn’t want him to bring the ball up and guard the best guy on the floor. That would have worn him out.”

Fundamentally, the EYBL tries to mimic how the game unfolds at the professional level. It uses a 24-second shot clock, and the 3-point arc is set at NBA distance. And schematically, the circuit sits at the bottom of the funnel, receiving and deploying offensive trends that trickle down.

So, it means almost every system leans heavily on spread pick-and-rolls and various iterations of handoffs. “It’s a pick-on-them league,” Milliren said. “They’ll find the weak link.”

Mokan deploys an array of ways to cope with a ball screen, but its default mode is push coverage. Instead of switching, the on-ball defender fights over the top of the screen, while the screener’s defender typically hedges. “I want you guarding the guy we talked about in the scouting report,” Milliren said.

This season, Mokan might have boasted the EYBL’s deepest frontcourt. Bol, Tyler McKinley, and James Brown possess more than length. They’re all extremely mobile, a trait that lets Milliren use them like a thermostat regulating the heat a dribbler feels.

For example, if the scout noted that a lead guard struggles to knock down pull-ups, Mokan might have Bol linger a step below the screen in drop coverage. By contrast, Bol can jump out and help trap a dribbler that struggles to cope with pressure. However, letting a ball handler change course can’t happen.

That’s where Barrett is critical. Fighting over prevents the dribbler from receiving a rescreen. It’s also dirty and physical work. Yet Barrett reliably carries out that manual labor and recovers in time to get in front of his man.

The same logic applies in how Mokan guards dribble-handoffs: the guard fights over, the big shows, and the dribbler can’t plunge into a gap. And because so many teams switch, it catches that would-be driver off guard. “They don’t like it when we knock that down,” Milliren said.

But sometimes, the big can’t call the coverage and respond in time. When it happens, Mokan and Barrett toggle to through coverage. Again, the tactic is what it sounds like. Bol, for example, leaves a gap for Barrett to pass through.

Barrett’s agility and first slide are good enough to stay in front and beat his man to a spot. From there, it’s as if he’s shepherding the dribbler to a big rotating over at the top of the restricted arc. He also stays on balance reliably, able to contest a spot-up jumper if his man comes to a stop.

Watching teams hunt Barrett in isolation is a chance to see his competitive streak emerge.

It’s not just the first slide that pops off the screen. Barrett excels at using his frame and strength to change a driver’s attack angle and play with verticality if they keep pushing toward the rim. Barrett’s man often tries to play off two feet for a pull-up, usually resulting in a contested miss.

It’s also a trait coaches never coaxed out of Barrett, present since the moment he suited up on Edmond North’s freshman roster. “Every kid should be taught the way he has,” Norris said. “He takes it personally.” Last season, Norris set Barrett loose on David Castillo, a Kansas State pledge and the No. 41 prospect nationally, in a matchup with rival Bartlesville. It ended with an Edmond North win and 10 turnovers registered for Castillo in the scorer’s book.

Barrett can’t offer up an origin story, either. You could chalk defending up as the shortest path to playing time. “I don’t know why,” Barrett said. “Growing up, I didn’t play that much defense. But when I got on the EYBL, I started seeing that guarding people can help you find the flow of the game. It can help you win games.”

That rationale holds up when Milliren gushes about his approach to managing Barrett’s minutes.

“I use the term ‘eat their face off’ to trigger some guys,” Milliren said. “Not with T.O. That dude is all that, man. It’s hard to take him off the floor. With some players, they might turn the ball over or force a shot, and you have to go get them. But with him, I’m like, ‘That means he can’t go down there and lock that dude up.’ I’m just going to roll with it because that’s the kind of presence he is.”

You can also trust Barrett to do the work that people only notice when it goes wrong.

As an off-ball defender, he knows how far he can drift from the corner to the midline or when stunting into a gap. Watch him do the bland work of recovering out to shooters. He’s almost always under control and rarely bites on shot fakes.

He’s not flawless, but it’s hard for his coaches to single out problematic tendencies. “When you start with the physical skills he has and the mentality he has, you trust that he’s going to be a great defender,” Norris said.

The only critique you could lodge – a small one – is that Barrett can be a tad overaggressive hunting blocks. There are times when Milliren pulls the guard aside to remind him that forcing a contested pull-up is a win. Just stay down, he’ll tell Barrett. But it’s also tempered.

“I’m all right with that,” Milliren said. “If he’s not being aggressive, that’s going to hurt us in the long run.”


What does Barrett offer on offense?

Weirdly, Barrett also owed his role to perfect attendance.

Edmond North’s run to the Class 6A state title wrapped up in early March, removing any conflicts to keep him from commuting north for workouts. Givens and Rowe weren’t so fortunate. Their respective schools were tracking toward appearances at Geico Nationals, set for the end of the month. Without them available, Barrett learned how to run Mokan’s offense and the jobs of two other guard spots.

That knowledge – and a hefty workload on the defensive end – made it easier to use Barrett as a jigsaw piece in the rotation.

When Barrett and Givens shared the floor, initiating duties shifted based on the situation and set Mokan called. Inserting Rowe, who played exclusively as a table setter, nudged Givens to combo guard and converted Barrett to a floor spacer. But no matter the lineup or action, Barrett still had opportunities to power Mokan in transition through live-ball turnovers or grab-and-go situations.

“T.O. was at his best in space in the open floor,” Milliren said. “He’s a full-steam kind of guy. Any time he got a rebound, he brought it, and those other two filled lanes.”

T.O. Barrett | Combo Guard | 6-foot-4, 180 pounds | Mokan Elite

24 21.6 7.8 5 2.3 38.2 22.8 85.3 1.1 0.3 2.0

Asked to define his job, Barrett is matter-of-fact. “My role is doing what I had to do when the coach asked me to do it,” he said. Last month at Peach Jam, for example, he rarely piloted Mokan’s half-court offense, a stretch of seven games that overlapped a stellar run of play from Rowe at point guard.

“I didn’t want to complain,” Barrett recalled. “I just wanted to win. I see myself as more on the ball and making plays for people, but at that time, I didn’t care. I just wanted to win.”

Let’s be clear: Barrett’s metrics as a jumper shooter aren’t exactly salivating.

He shot 22.8 percent from 3-point range for the EYBL season, including 3 of 15 games over a week at Peach Jam. And in the dozen games I’ve watched, Barrett only connected at a 20.8 percent clip from beyond the arc.

Those viewings also reinforce just how fine the margins can be. Consider that Barrett watched three of those attempts rattle out. Had they stayed down, he’d have finished 8 of 24 and averaged 1.0 points per shot, an acceptable value taken from NBA range.

Circumstances also matter. While Barrett finished with a 21.1 percent usage rate, his stint with Mokan was the first time he endured long stretches without dictating how a possession unfolds. The tension of wondering when – or if — you’ll touch the rock again seeps into your psyche.

“It’s kind of hard to get in the flow because I am so used to having the ball in my hands,” Barrett said. “Once I do get it, I don’t want to say I’m shocked, but it’s different. You didn’t start there. You’re not in the flow as much as when you’re trying to make plays for others.”

Milliren is clear that one objective of the offense is to ensure each roster member gets to eat. However, Mokan’s roster lacked chemistry early in the spring, and players occasionally hoarded shots instead of sharing, Barrett said. And he doesn’t spare himself criticism.

“I felt like I wasn’t getting enough shots up, so I started forcing,” Barrett said. “I’d take bad shots or shots that aren’t the ones I would usually take.”

By contrast, Barrett had more opportunities to shoot with a modest degree of movement at Edmond North. For example, he could step into some 3-pointers as a trail shooter in early-clock situations. The results in the three games I viewed – all from the Class 6A tournament – were mixed. So, I put the question to Barrett.

“Sometimes, it does,” Barrett said.

As the Huskies’ lead guard, Barrett also had abundant opportunities to hunt for mid-range attempts out of isolation situations. Norris, as you can see, gave Barrett ample latitude in shot selection. And the guard, who can shoot off the bounce or create space playing off two feet, doesn’t lack confidence.

Hard shots are inevitable, but Norris said his former point guard will confront a familiar lesson in shooting off the bounce. “He’s going to continue to improve at that, but that also means getting better at learning what is a good shot and what is a bad shot,” Norris said.

Pushed off the ball with Mokan, Barrett often occupied the weak side of the floor – usually with a vacant corner – to give him air space. Touches flowed his way on ball reversals, kick outs from a paint touch, or skip passes.

“When he can pop out, he’s got a side of the floor where he’s not going to run into a lot of traffic,” Milliren said. “He can drive it, and if they don’t come out on him, he can shoot it.”

Barrett won’t hesitate to rip through, but savvy opponents knew closing out short was the best option. Those straight-line drives would turn into pull-up attempts. The solution: boost proficiency on catch-and-shoot jumpers, forcing harder closeouts that Barrett can exploit.

It wasn’t until late May that Barrett slipped into a more familiar role. With Rowe out sick, Barrett slid up a spot in the lineup to combo guard. Over five games in Memphis, he stitched together his best run of play this spring.

Barrett maxed out his chances to grab, go and stress defenses as they scrambled to match up. At times, he relied on bigs setting trail screens, but frequently, Barrett plowed into the middle gap almost by brute force. Able to pilot the offense, he averaged 12.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.

Getting a sense of how Barrett leverages ball screens means calling up North’s late-season games. Norris’ roster relied more heavily on interior players as a source of offense. Pick-and-rolls aren’t a prime mover of the attack. Instead, they emerge more organically as four- and five-out sets unfold.

When they did take place, the action hinged on the big man setting the screen. Bryce Potts might roll into a post-up while Xavier Ross remained moored in place. Barrett won’t rattle off the actions he prefers or the spots he’s trying to reach. Playing in ball screens remains intuitive, a means to get downhill, keep a defender on his hip and hunt for contact at the rim.

“He does a great job of using his body to create that initial angle and take advantage of defenders,” Norris said.

Yet Norris also thought Barrett settled too often, baited into jumpers when a defender dipped under a screen. “What we really wanted was to see him keep working and try to rescreen,” the coach added.

Barrett’s also about what you would expect at this stage as a facilitator. He can use his eyes to shift defenders, such as opening up space along the baseline for cutters. And he recognizes when to drop the ball off to the dunker spot when an opposing big helps up the lane. “I still gotta work on my hook pass to the opposite corner,” Barrett noted, “or to a guy filling the spot behind me.”

Developing a bit of foresight is another step Barrett will need to take along his developmental curve. For example, a PNR he’s running might be a dummy action intended to shift the defense, creating an opportunity for a teammate later in the possession. “He’s not always going to be the guy getting the assist,” Norris said. “He can be the one getting the hockey assist.”

The tape consistently shows us where Barrett has room for growth as a facilitator and for improving his shot selection.

But back-of-the-envelope calculations deem his choices as reasonable ones. He shot 54 percent inside the arc over a dozen EYBL games I watched, including 10 of 19 in the mid-range. And if you tally up all of his rim attempts, including those on the break, they were worth 1.098 points per shot — or nearly identical to the value we see at the Division I level.

Like the occasional gamble or silly foul on defense, Barrett’s assertiveness comes with a slight tax. But it also reaps the rewards. In the state semifinals, Barrett drilled a go-ahead 3-ball to start overtime. A day later, Barrett stripped a Broken Arrow guard in the backcourt and coasted in for a dunk, thwarting a run and putting the Huskies ahead late in the third quarter. And late in the fourth quarter, Barrett, who finished with 17 points, sank a corner 3 to push the Huskies lead to four, securing the state crown in the process.

“He wanted to be the guy to make a big play,” Norris said. “He embraces the good and bad with that.”


What’s next in Barrett’s development?

In late May, Barrett announced he would spend his senior season at Link Academy.

What started as a program to help prospects boost their stock with a prep season has slowly evolved into an offshoot of Mokan’s grassroots program. Today, Link functions as a finishing school with an elite roster to match. When Barrett arrives, he’ll reunite with Rowe, while Tre Johnson (No. 3 in 2024), Labaron Philon (No. 30 in ’24), and Jasper Johnson (No. 12 in 2025) also drop their bags outside Branson.

Not that it induces any anxiety for Barrett.

Instead, the decision to transfer continued what he started in joining Mokan: immersing himself in a habitat that closely mimics the one waiting for him in Columbia. Giving up usage and a shot at a third-straight state crown aren’t painful tradeoffs.

“I’m not going to Link to be the player that scores the most points,” Barrett said. “I’m going to challenge myself. I want to be with the best of the best and use that to prepare myself for college.”

T.O. Barrett | Combo Guard | Mokan Elite | Efficiency 

21.1 0.853 42.9 45.4 1.1 1.7 0.414 0.194 7.5 15.9

Two items stick out atop any potential to-do list. First up, make some modest improvements to an inconsistent shooting stroke. After that, Barrett could tighten a handle that gets a little loose. Ticking off those items would do wonders to boost the pedestrian efficiency (0.853 points per possession) he posted with Mokan.

Fixing up Barrett’s jumper begins by elevating his release. Like many shooters, his is low to high, but the dip on the catch is especially deep, almost resembling a free throw. Had Barrett remained at North, Norris and his staff would have focused on smoothing that out and elevating his shooting pocket.

Meanwhile, Milliren latched on to the way the ball came off Barrett’s hand. “He needs to get his shot coming off his middle finger more,” Milliren said. “That way, there’s more rotation on the ball.”

None that will amount to a teardown for Barrett or MU’s staff. Norris expects Barrett’s shooting metrics to trend up as long as Barrett’s committed to the changes and amassing quality reps. “There’s always been a willingness and effort to get better,” Norris said. “It can also take time, but he’ll keep improving and make those adjustments.”

Barrett’s evaluation of his jumper goes beyond tips and tweaks. Spacing the floor gave him more time to fixate on misses. “It’s mostly confidence,” Barrett said. “I can be in my head a little bit too much.”

As a freshman, Barrett’s best chance at sticking in the rotation will hinge on drilling jumpers, including those off movement. Taking on a creative role, though, will require improving his handle. During the grassroots season, he finished with a 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

But MU won’t wonder about one commodity.

“The competitiveness of guarding at the level he guards, you can’t work on that,” Milliren said. “There’s no drill for that. You’ve either got it or you don’t.”

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