In a move that had been whispered throughout the offseason, Mizzou Athletics announced senior guard Cullen VanLeer would medically retire from basketball, freeing up an additional scholarship for the 2018-19 season.
The move was not all that surprising considering VanLeer’s injury, which was advertised as an ACL tear but was compounded with an MCL tear and lateral meniscus damage. A knee injury as serious as VanLeer suffered meant even with extensive rehab the likelihood of returning to contribute this season was scarce. Medical retirement is a move which benefits VanLeer and Mizzou both.
For VanLeer, he remains on scholarship and can finish his degree. For Mizzou they have an open scholarship to use as “break in case of emergency” like a mid-season transfer worth jumping on. And they get to keep VanLeer around to provide guidance and leadership to a youthful roster.
In defense of Cullen VanLeer and his role at Missouri
In the history of Missouri basketball players I’m not sure if there has been a player so routinely made fun of as VanLeer. The vast majority of it was very unfair.
The true criticism of VanLeer lies in his oversized role he was forced into taking on since he stepped onto campus. The responsibility for his role was always determined by his coaches. VanLeer didn’t decide not to recruit O.G. Anunoby or Landry Shamet.
VanLeer is a sound basketball player who’s biggest failure was never quite living up to the elite shooting reputation the previous staff had bestowed upon him, at least in games (rumor had it he was lights out in practice).
Despite so many seemingly rooting for him to fail, VanLeer soldiered on and represented the program as well as anyone has. And he earned the trust of the new staff, the one who didn’t recruit him, enough to reward him with 13 starts last season.
VanLeer wasn’t a big offensive threat, when he did hit shots you had to feel good about Missouri’s chances. But he did have one of the top defensive performances of the season when he was the primary defender responsible for Kevin Knox’s awful night at Mizzou Arena.
Five points, two turnovers in a virtually non-existent 25 minutes on the floor and VanLeer’s defense was a key part of Missouri’s first ever win over the Kentucky Wildcats. The biggest black mark on Cullen’s Missouri resume, if you ask me, he got injured before he could play in the NCAA tournament.
So what does this do to the roster in the short term?
Honestly not a lot. Based upon what I’d been told about VanLeer’s injury he was unlikely to contribute this season. Plus, being a senior his scholarship was due to come off the books next season anyway. In the immediate this gives Missouri flexibility in the upcoming season.
The two most obvious moves would be to put a current walk-on on scholarship, the other would be to hold it in case a mid-season transfer.
We know, based upon yesterday, where Missouri is in the recruiting part of the 2019 class. The reality has them squared in the sites of Mario McKinney and E.J. Liddell and not a lot after. Even if the Tigers pull off both they still have two other scholarships to dole out for the class.
Losing VanLeer, or even the potential for VanLeer, thins out the wing position and loses all experience there.
It’s assured with Jordan Geist, Xavier Pinson, Javon Pickett and Torrence Watson at guard you’re going to see wing minutes from Kevin Puryear, K.J. Santos, and Mitchell Smith. Cuonzo Martin is going to have several moments of positionless basketball and the roster constraints are going to flaunt the idea.
The good news is there are some talented players who might be otherwise trapped for minutes behind Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon. Finding minutes for guys like Mitchell Smith and Kevin Puryear is a necessity.
Losing the experienced player in Cullen VanLeer hurts depth. VanLeer the mentor is still around to help the young guys who will be forced into situations they may not be properly prepared for. He knows a thing or two about that.