Gill-Caesar looks like a sure keeper on a young Mizzou team

Montaque Gill-Caesar looks to be hitting his stride now after a midseason injury set him back.  

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By now, it’s become clear that 2014-15 won’t be a season to remember for the Missouri Tigers’ basketball team. Not fondly, anyway.

While settling into the bottom of the Southeastern Conference standings, the Tigers have lost five consecutive games for the first time since enduring a six-game losing streak in 2005-06. With an overall record of 7-12, the Tigers need to finish 9-3 to avoid their first losing season in nine years.

Now, with top-ranked Kentucky and dangerous Ole Miss visiting Mizzou Arena this week following last Saturday’s wrenching loss to Arkansas, the Tigers are staring at the possibility of losing three straight games at home. You have to dig back in the media guide all the way to 1965-66 to find the last time Missouri lost three straight games at home. Granted, they don’t often play three straight at home during the conference season, but any way you look at it, this hasn’t been the kind of first season coach Kim Anderson would have preferred.

They started with a loss to lowly Missouri-Kansas City (now 8-13, by the way), have been blown out by 49 points at Kentucky and have suffered their share of heartbreakers.

"It’s been hard," Anderson said after the 61-60 loss to Arkansas.

But not everything has gone in the tank for the Tigers. Sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III has developed into an All-SEC candidate, senior transfer Keith Shamburger has put his fifth year of college to good use and the youngsters — the Tigers play five freshmen — have gained valuable experience.

And of those newcomers, one for sure looks like a keeper.

Montaque Gill-Caesar — Tekie, for short — has had his share of ups and downs but has proved that bypassing another year of prep school was not a mistake. Gill-Caesar was listed as one of the top recruits in the class of 2015, but after coach Rob Fulford left Huntington (W.Va.) Prep to join Anderson’s staff, Gill-Caesar decided to follow. He was eligible to do so because he graduated high school last May.

Gill-Caesar, a 6-foot-6 wing, opened the season in the starting lineup and was leading the Tigers in scoring after 10 games. He hurt his back in the 11th game when he was fouled hard by Illinois and has yet to return to 100 percent health. He missed three games because of the injury and didn’t make much of an impact in his first two games after coming back.

But Gill-Caesar looks to be back now. He scored 16 points against Arkansas in what Anderson later called the 18-year-old’s best game. Gill-Caesar swished two jumpers in the closing minutes and finished six for nine from the field, including three for three on 3-pointers. Making the performance even more impressive was that Anderson didn’t find out Gill-Caesar would play until half an hour before tipoff because he sprained his left ankle in practice Friday afternoon.

"I was shocked when they said he could play," Anderson said. "From the time we got here this morning at 9 he was being treated the whole time. But he moved pretty well out there."

Gill-Caesar has been compared to Andrew Wiggins, the first pick in last year’s NBA Draft, but that’s more because both came out of the Toronto area and played for Fulford at Huntington Prep. But like Wiggins, Gill-Caesar relies on athleticism and shows a versatile game, able to slash to the basket as well as score from the perimeter. He is averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 rebounds.

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"He’s a guy you can move around a little bit," Anderson told reporters Tuesday. "He can post up some. He shoots it pretty well."

He is shooting only 36.8 percent, though, and he also has committed 29 turnovers to only five assists. Anderson, however, believes Gill-Caesar benefited from being able to watch three games. Anderson says Gill-Caesar has played at a calmer, more controlled pace since returning. "I think he was trying so hard," Anderson said.

John Calipari has been telling Kentucky media that Thursday’s rematch with Missouri is not likely to be as lopsided as the 86-37 beatdown in Lexington two weeks ago. The Tigers will be playing in front of what should be a big and loud home crowd and they also will have Gill-Caesar, whose back forced him to miss the game in Kentucky.

He can’t be expected to make up that much of a disparity, but he should help. In what has been a difficult season for the Tigers, he’s already shown he can do that.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.