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March 20, 2012

Eye on the Future





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The work week of a college coach is never-ending. The Missouri basketball season is over. For Frank Haith, that means it is time to move on.

"I wish we had some down time," Haith said. "My wife wishes we did."

Haith will hit the recruiting trail, along with his staff, in the coming days. He will look to add the pieces to improve upon a 30-5 season which ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Norfolk State.

Missouri has two scholarships available for the spring signing period, which runs from April 11th to May 16th.

"We're gonna use them. We're gonna find a way, whether it be a guy that can help us this year or another transfer opportunity," Haith said. "We're nt going to tak e a guy that can't help us. We're going to use them."

Only Michael Dixon Jr. and Phil Pressey return from this year's seven-man rotation. Missouri will add transfers Keion Bell, Ernest Ross and Danny Feldman at the beginning of the season and Jabari Brown after the first semester ends. They have a five-man recruiting class (Ryan Rosburg, Stefan Jankovic, Negus Webster-Chan, Dominique Bull and Tony Criswell) already signed and will get Laurence Bowers back from a knee injury that led to a redshirt season this year.

"By the time we make the trip in August, I don't know that he will be able to play then," Haith said of a pre-season exhibition trip for the Tigers. "There's no need to rush Laurence Bowers out to be competitive to play right now. It's gonna take him some time. There's no games won or lost until next November or December. We want him ready by then."

Haith said many times this season that he loved the seven players he had, but he would love to have more. Next season, he will.

"We will probably be deeper, we'll probably be bigger, we'll probably be overall more athletic," Haith said. "I think the thing when you're deeper you always can have great practices in terms of challenging guys to do more. Sometimes, you kind of, it is what it is when you have only seven guys. That's when you're fortunate to have a senior laden team. I think the competitiveness makes your team good when you have moveable parts. I think next year's team, just looking at it right now, shoot we got to start working, we're going to take our summer tour with this team, which will be great. We'll just have ten practices. We're going to do it in August which will be good, we'll get to know them, but I think that team will be one that we can play different ways in terms of we can play big, we can play small, having a little bit of ability to adjust to who you're playing against and I think that's something that we could not do this year based on the situation."

What cannot be known is if Haith can replicate the chemistry this year's team had. The Tigers were limited in personnel, particularly in the front court. They won because Kim English played power forward better than anyone could have imagined, because Ricardo Ratliffe made nearly every shot he took, because Steve Moore became a player no one knew he could, because Marcus Denmon was an assassin, because Matt Pressey accepted his role, because Phil Pressey became a star and because Michael Dixon Jr. accepted a spot as the sixth man instead of a starter.

"This team had great chemistry, this is a good basketball team that won because they were a really good team. Great chemistry, they trusted each other. Where they were lacking in some areas, a dominant post player with size or, we didn't have all those things, we didn't have great depth, but they won because they're a great team and had great chemistry. We've got to develop that with next year's team because you've got to have that," Haith said. "Let's talk about why this team was so good. They all know. They were with them. They know why this team was good. That's what you're hopefully that they can carry over, that they can learn from their experience of being part of this team."

Can next year's team be as good? It is an unanswerable question. Is Bowers healthy? Will Dixon start? Can a group of twelve or thirteen kids who have never played together mesh like the group of seven who pledged to reconcile by winning and spent the entire summer in the gym together?

"You can have great talent and still not win," Haith said. "The intangibles is the heart and soul of why this team had success."

Will Haith's second team be able to replicate that? In eight months, he'll find out.

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