When Missouri opens up its exhibition basketball season against Northwest Missouri State on Monday night, the Tigers won't be at full strength. Head coach Frank Haith on Friday announced the suspensions of senior guard Michael Dixon Jr. and freshman point guard Dominique Bull for violation of team rules.
"I know the first question you guys are going to ask is when are they gonna be back?" Haith said. "That will be determined by those young men and how they handle adversity. We will let you know."
The suspensions will last at least one game and could be longer. Bull has been practicing with the team, but Dixon has not.
"Mike has had some time off to work on some academic stuff and he has done a nice job," Haith said. "He's made some strides in that area and I'm really proud of how well he's done so far. That's why we're gonna have him back at practice starting next week."
The coach and players tried to stress the positives of the suspensions.
"I know when you suspend guys, that's going to be a major headline, a negative headline. But within our team, in terms of guys working, it hasn't been negative," Haith said. "Our guys have worked very hard and our guards are getting a lot of reps. It's been good for those guys to get the reps that they need to get and we do have some depth."
"I feel like coach is trying new things out and I think it's all good for our team," Phil Pressey said. "We can figure out some of the things we're lacking now as opposed to the end of the season."
The Tigers should have little trouble winning games with Dixon out, even if the suspension lasts beyond Monday. He was expected to start at shooting guard and back Pressey up at the point. With Dixon and Bull out, Keion Bell and perhaps even freshman Negus Webster-Chan will get some time at point guard on Monday night.
"I guess I'm going to have to," Bell said. "Coach Haith has been talking to me about playing the point since last summer. There's going to be times when I'm out there playing the point. I played the point at my last school so it's not like I'm not used to it."
But the bigger question for the Tigers is how Dixon will respond to the discipline from his coach. As a sophomore, Dixon was suspended by Mike Anderson for a period of time. As a junior, he embraced the role of sixth man that Haith asked him to play and led the country in scoring for non-starters.
"Mike is a senior. I would assume that he knows how to deal with adversity," Laurence Bowers said. "He's been around the block for a while and we're just looking forward to getting him back. It was coach's decision and we're behind coach and we're behind Mike."
"He's been great. I say that, but it is disappointing," Haith said. "We hold all our student athletes and our basketball players to a high standard but particularly our seniors. But he has handled it very, very well. He knows that. I've told him that. This is a learning experience for him and personal growth is what we want to see the outcome of this. He has done very well."
As for when he will return, that remains up in the air.
"Both those guys have been spoken to individually," Haith said. "They know what our expectations are and they know they have to meet those expectations."
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