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How the Tigers are preparing newcomers for SEC competition

Kobe Brown remembers being nervous to play in his first SEC game.

Missouri opened league play on the road against No. 17 Kentucky on Jan. 4, 2020. Though Brown was a freshman who’d turned 20 years old just three days earlier, he was slated to start.

“That added a lot of fear,” Brown said.

The Tigers lost, 71-59, but the forward played reasonably well, scoring nine points on 4-7 shooting, securing three rebounds and adding an assist and a steal in 20 minutes. Brown has since played in another 50 conference games and grown into an All-SEC caliber player.

Kobe, his younger brother, sophomore guard Kaleb Brown, and returning junior forward Ronnie DeGray III, will be the only Tigers with SEC experience under their belts heading into this season, though. For the other 12 players on the roster, it’ll be their first go-around, with most coming from the mid-major, junior college or high school level.

Preparing the newcomers for what they’ll see competing in a conference that features five teams in the preseason AP Top 25 poll (and two others receiving votes) will be one of the biggest hurdles for head coach Dennis Gates and his staff to clear. As Kobe puts it, SEC teams are bigger, stronger, smarter and faster. And if you haven’t played against one before, you need to know what you’re walking into.

For Gates, the tutorial starts with internal leadership. As one of the team’s captains, Kobe is expected to help his teammates learn what will and won’t work at their level. To do so, he uses moves in practice that he knows other players in the league will try on the Tigers.

“I try to go at them as hard as I can in practice,” Kobe said. “I try to be overly physical with the forwards so they'll know what to expect in the games.”

Clemson transfer point guard Nick Honor is another captain and has been highly touted by the coaching staff for his experience playing in the ACC. Associate head coach C.Y. Young called him a “godsend” on KCSN’s “Mizzou, That’s Who” podcast on Monday.

Honor said the thing he’s told the Tigers the most is the need for consistency. Playing for a high-major, you could be matching up with a McDonald’s All-American or a team of up-and-coming NBA draft prospects on any given night. Not giving max every game usually doesn’t pan out well.

“It's a long season and a lot of ups and downs, but we just have to stay tough,” Honor said. “And at the end of the day, it's just basketball.”

Gates pointed out that many of the newcomers have gone up, and in some cases been successful, against high-major competition in non-conference play before. The biggest difference in suiting up for Mizzou will be doing so on a night-to-night basis.

“The storm is coming, so to speak,” Gates said. “It's not going to be easy, not for any team. But the team that I believe can keep it all together and get to the end collectively and lean on the tenets or even the mantra at the end will prevail. And you'll see those things happening, hopefully in my program.”

The Tigers will eventually become accustomed to the Goliaths of the SEC. Kobe did.

Because while he remembers being nervous for his first game, he also remembers what helped him the most.

“The best way to get over is just to get thrown into the fire, really,” Kobe said. “You know, you're either gonna swim or drown, but either way, you'll get better as a person, as a player.”