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October 24, 2012

Powered Up: New season, new league, new role



What a year it has been.

Three hundred and sixty-two days ago, the biggest news in the history of Mizzou athletics became unofficially official.

On October 25th, 2011, the Big 12 Conference meetings ended in Dallas. University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton was at the meetings, but did not participate in votes at the advice of legal counsel. Upon his return to Columbia, Deaton told everyone who asked that decisions like the one Missouri had to make could not be rushed. Three days later, the league admitted West Virginia and talked about going forward with ten teams. Missouri wasn't listed as one of them.

By then, of course, the decision had been made. Four days prior, I had completed a border-to-border tour of Curators' meetings in St. Louis and Kansas City. At the first, Missouri leaders announced Deaton had been authorized to explore Missouri's options in regard to conference affiliation. At the second, there was a discussion of what Missouri wanted to do for the city of Kansas City with the unspoken message being that the Tigers were still devoted to the town even though they wouldn't be in the Big 12 anymore.

In the hallways of that first meeting in St. Louis, on October 4th, we found out that Laurence Bowers had torn his ACL in practice and would miss Missouri's entire 2011-12 season. Reporters, waiting for the Curators to emerge from their meetings, wasted time by writing their eulogies on Mizzou's basketball season.

Of course, nobody notified Kim English, Marcus Denmon and their five teammates who would carry the Tigers to 30 wins, a Big 12 tournament title and one of the most electrifying seasons in school history (all the way up to that Friday in Omaha).

Twelve months later, so much is different. Bowers is still here. But he's getting ready to play his senior season in the Southeastern Conference. His coach, Frank Haith will meet the league's media for the first time in Birmingham on Thursday at the SEC Basketball Media Days. A year ago, Haith had to answer questions about just what in the hell had possessed Mike Alden to hire a coach who had a losing record at Miami. The tone might be a bit different on Thursday.


The Tigers were picked third in the league's pre-season media poll, behind Kentucky and Florida. The Wildcats have won two of the last three regular season titles, the Gators the other. Missouri, the new kid on the block, got one first-place vote. Phil Pressey was picked to the all-SEC first-team and tabbed as the league's pre-season player of the year. Michael Dixon Jr. was named to the second-team.

A year ago, Haith entered his first season in Columbia as the ultimate underdog. He had seven players, most of whom had played central roles in what could only be termed a complete collapse in the final days of Mike Anderson's career. He had done little to prove he could win as a Division One coach. Most national media had tabbed it the most baffling and disastrous off-season move in college hoops. That team reached heights seen by few before it in Columbia.

But now, Missouri finds itself in a brand new role. The Tigers have only two players who have ever suited up for Haith in a game. But they have up to 12 that could see meaningful action this season. They are everyone's pick to win big (one national writer even picked them to win the whole thing in early April) and many are wondering if they were all wrong about Frank Haith.

The Tigers get to start answering that question on Monday night when they play their first exhibition game against Northwest Missouri State. So many new faces, so much talent and five months before we know how it will all come together.

Last season, Missouri basketball was on a mission to prove everyone wrong. This year, the Tigers set out to prove everyone right. Which one is harder?

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