Pressey and Dixon allow Mizzou to dream
COLUMBIA, Mo. — There’s high praise tossed in Mizzou Arena these days, because the time is never too early to dream. The calendar reads October, but Missouri’s glare is turned to what can be achieved in March, in part because guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon will grip the wheel of a college basketball Bentley.
Compliments for the Tigers’ backcourt are like Halloween candy: Packaging differs but the sugar is the same. These are heady days before Missouri begins its second season under coach Frank Haith, whispers of a possible Final Four tumbling from lips near and far.
Pressey and Dixon, both recipients of preseason All-American honors, are the sandmen of these fall fantasies.
“You look at our team, we only have two guys that I’ve coached in a game — that’s Mike and Phil,” Haith said, his voice booming into a microphone near midcourt when addressing the Mizzou Madness crowd last Friday. “So we’ve got a relatively new team. But I will be honest with you when I say this: We’ve got a chance to have a special season.”
“Having Phil and Mike is definitely a plus,” Missouri senior forward Laurence Bowers told reporters later. “It makes the game a little bit easier for us. I think we’re fortunate to have what I would call the best backcourt in the nation.”
That could be the case. Marcus Denmon and Kim English, the hammer and anvil of the Tigers’ backcourt last season, are gone after their names were called in the NBA Draft’s second round in June. With them, they took 130 assists and an average of 32.2 points.
But slide your finger further down the stat lines in Missouri’s scorebook to see why so many buzz about the Tigers’ potential in their first Southeastern Conference season. Dixon, then a junior, averaged 13.5 points last season, and Pressey, then a sophomore, chipped in 10.3. Meanwhile, Pressey paced the Big 12 Conference with 223 assists, and Dixon stood second on the team with 116 (no other Missouri player had more than Denmon’s 74).
So long, hammer and anvil. Welcome, dish and dash.
“We’ve been playing together my whole career,” said Pressey, who also led the Big 12 in steals per game (2.1) and assist/turnover ratio (2.6) last season. “This is going to be our first year actually getting out there and starting together, so it’s going to be fun. He’s been here for four years. I’ve been here for three. We’re experienced. We know how it is out there — road and home games. I feel like we’re going to have a great year.”
Why will the duo work? Will the combo have chemistry?
“Me and Phil tend to never get too high or never get too low from game to game,” said Dixon, who led the Tigers in bench scoring last season. “I think that’s just something that has grown on us over time. We know how good we are. But we just have to go out there and do the intangible things to win ballgames, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Comfort could aid that process. Hearing both address their roles is like listening to congressional candidates offer acceptance speeches. Pressey says leadership will come easy, because young players in the program know how much sweat he has invested to succeed. Dixon says leadership will come easy, because he owes it to his school to be an example.
Both will be guiding forces for a roster that has had as much turnover as a five-hour physics course. Bowers, who sat out last season with an ACL tear in his left knee, is the only other athlete who has played a regular-season game in a Missouri jersey. The transfers offer greater height and depth, both factors that led to Norfolk State cutting the Tigers’ dance music short in a painful exit last March.
New faces. New beginning. New attitude.
Backcourt hopes as tall as Alex Oriakhi? Those are new as well.
“I think both those guys have an ability to do a lot of different things,” Haith said. “That’s a huge advantage. When they’re playing together, you talk about that you have virtually two point guards out there. That’s a huge plus in the level of basketball we play.”
The level that Missouri can reach is a guessing game in October, the predictions only parlor tricks before results begin to count in November. Still, visions can stimulate the imagination.
Late Friday, Pressey stood in a corridor at Mizzou Arena, most of the crowd having dispersed into a chilled night. He spoke about the excitement of seeing the Big 12 tournament championship banner raised earlier in the evening. He carried thoughts of earning more.
“I just can’t wait to get a national championship put up there,” he said, smiling.
This is, after all, a time to dream.