When Rickey Paulding arrived at Missouri three years ago, his
three-point shot was so off the mark that "he couldn't hit water
if he fell out of a boat," recalls one Tigers insider. Yet after
missing the first 20 shots of his career from beyond the arc, the
6'5" forward has improved to the point that last March he nailed
nine threes in Missouri's 101-92 NCAA second-round loss to
Marquette. "That's symbolic of Rickey's approach to the game,"
says coach Quin Snyder. "If there's something he doesn't feel
he's good at, he's going to work at it."
Which is why Paulding also became the Tigers' best defender,
their highest scorer and one of the most spectacular dunk artists
in the country. So what part of his game was left to tinker with
during the summer, when he was a starter on the fourth-place U.S.
team in the Pan Am Games? His ball handling, his shot ("I'm
always trying to improve that," he says) and--look out--his
"The main thing I took away from the Pan Am Games was the
importance of being aggressive, every single night," says
Paulding. "Our goal this year is to stay together and leave it
all on the floor every time, even in practice."
In the preseason the Missouri practices were wars. The Tigers are
so deep that the nation's leading scorer in 2001-02--Jason
Conley, who transferred from VMI last winter after averaging 29.3
points as a freshman--will be coming off the bench after he's
eligible in December. Also, Paulding is dead serious when he
talks about the players staying together. He and forward Travon
Bryant and postman Arthur Johnson (Missouri's alltime leading
shot blocker with 198) arrived as part of Snyder's first
recruiting class, in the fall of 2000, and though Paulding and
Johnson were briefly tempted by the NBA draft last spring, they
have come back for their senior season. That unity and focus will
be essential for this team while an NCAA investigation into
alleged cash payments and improper academic help to
since-departed guard Ricky Clemons continues. "With our senior
leadership, we have a chance to be really good," says Paulding.
"We just need to keep working hard every day." --K.A.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO IF AT FIRST ... Constantly looking to improve, Paulding has concentrated on playing with more aggressiveness.
2002-03 RECORD: 22-11 (9-7, 5th in Big 12)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Marquette in 2nd round
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Rickey Paulding 6'5" Sr. 17.4 ppg
PF Travon Bryant 6'9" Sr. 5.8 rpg
C Arthur Johnson 6'8 1/2" Sr. 9.6 rpg
SG Josh Kroenke 6'4" Sr. 3.5 ppg
PG Jimmy McKinney 6'3" Soph. 8.6 ppg
an opposing coach's view
"ARTHUR JOHNSON is the best scoring post man in the league. He's
just very crafty around the basket.... RICKEY PAULDING is a
tremendous athlete, and you want to try to limit his touches
because he's going to be a focal point of their offense....
TRAVON BRYANT has gotten a lot tougher. You used to be able to
bang him around a little bit, and he'd whine. Now he'll get in
there and bang with you.... Point guard is their biggest question
mark. JIMMY MCKINNEY played there some last year, but he's more
of a scoring guard. With as much talent as they have, they could
get away with McKinney at the point. [Junior point guard and juco
transfer] RANDY PULLEY is supposed to be pretty good."
Rebounds needed by senior center Arthur Johnson to pass Doug
Smith as Missouri's alltime leader.