WESTFIELD, Ind. — Four minutes had ticked off the clock, and Josh Christopher needed a wardrobe change.
Sitting on the bench, the guard for The Truth, who also happens to be the No. 11 prospect in the class of 2020, pulled a pair of Nike Kobe A.D. NXT shoes. On the right shoe, a hand-drawn phrase filled the space. Friends don’t lie, it read. On the left, a drawing of a blonde woman clad in a chiffon dress and a blue windbreaker.
“I just decided to go with my custom Stranger Things shoes,” Christopher said in the aftermath of a 77-59 loss to Team United on Saturday during the second session of the Nike EYBL Circuit. “These are my go-to.”
Few players would switch shoes during a breather on the bench — Christopher packs five pairs for each road trip — and it’s doubtful they’d pay homage to Eleven and her telekinesis. To Christopher, though, show-swapping is a perfectly reasonable course of action.
“If I don’t like the way I’m playing, I’ll just change them up,” Christopher said. “You know, look good, play good.”
The switch, however, did little to snap Christopher out of his lull.
While he finished with 16 points, he went just 2-for-16 from the floor — he missed 10 straight at one point — and was bailed out by knocking down 10 of 12 attempts at the free-throw line. Meanwhile, The Truth, a first-year EYBL program run by retired NBA star Paul Pierce, slogged through a winless weekend.
The off day, though, is unlikely to dampen demand for the sophomore.
By now, you likely know what’s driving optimism among Mizzou fans about the Tigers’ chances to lure the wing from the West Coast. Christopher’s cousin just so happens to be Nicodemus Christopher, who has served as strength coach for coach Cuonzo Martin during stints at Tennessee, Cal, and now Mizzou. Last month, Josh Christopher pecked out a tweet that kicked off the buzz. “Send the offer,” it read. Attached was a link to a piece about Nicodemus.
A week ago, Martin obliged the not-so-subtle nudge from Christopher, who averaged 25.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game for Mayfair High School in California.
“It was almost a breakthrough because I was waiting,” Christopher said. “The Missouri fans are crazy. They showed a lot of love on Twitter so I was like, man, I’m getting all this love and no offer.”
Josh Christopher — EYBL Statistics
In Indianapolis, Missouri assistant coach Chris Hollender sat courtside and surrounded by a slew of coaches from West Coast programs, including UCLA’s Steve Alford. What they saw is a prospect wired to score. Standing 6-foot-4 and checking in at a sturdy 190 pounds, Christopher is a slasher who looks to attack seams and gaps as soon as the ball touches his hands.
After a sluggish first half, where a zone defense stilted The Truth’s offensive flow, coach Jason Crowe turned his star loose. Christopher didn’t rely on ball screens, either. Getting downhill started simply enough with an outlet pass to the wing near halfcourt and attacking a defense scrambling to match up. Once Christopher plowed into a thicket of defenders, he usually wound up splayed out on the baseline and picking himself up for a trip to the free-throw line.
“I just did what he asked me,” Christopher said. “It wasn’t a matter of me being selfish.”
On film, Christopher routinely knocks in catch-and-shoot jumpers and has clean mechanics, which is at odds with a 31-percent clip from behind the 3-point arc in EYBL play. The result is opponents play Smith as a driver, looking to force him left and with quick help to force contested mid-lane floaters.
Asked what areas of his game he was looking to refine, Smith didn’t hesitate.
“Overall efficiency,” Christopher said. “I know I can score from anywhere, any spot on the basketball court. Just being able to shoot over 50 percent or better.”
As one of Missouri’s earliest offers in the 2020 class, and given his prominent ties, Christopher will remain a priority over the next year. The Tigers are also poised to get him to Columbia in the near future.
“I’ll probably get out there after Peach Jam so I can go on the visit and then spend time with my cousin, too,” said Christopher, who also has offers from Cal, USC, UCLA, Arizona, Florida State, Oregon, Texas, and UNLV.
If Martin’s stylistic progression continues, there will be an appeal to a player who doesn’t blanch at saying, “You can put me in the post, on the wing, or on the ball.” Christopher has not failed to notice the recent string of Martin players — Jarnell Stokes, Josh Richardson, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb — to reach the professional ranks.
“What will put him in my finalists is, Cuonzo is top three in sending players to the league right now,” Christopher said. “That’s a dream of mine, so if the head coach can do that for me, why wouldn’t I consider it?”
Familial bonds aside, though, Christopher is still biding his time.
“I’m waiting on some dream schools to talk to me,” he said. “We all have those dream schools, you know? So I’m going to wait it out.”