Alex Oriakhi had a dream: to play college ball with Phil Pressey and continue the inside-outside dynamic that powered their AAU teams in Boston. Oriakhi's dream was deferred when he committed to play at UConn; then it morphed into a nightmare whenever he saw highlights of Pressey effortlessly feeding Mizzou big men. When the NCAA slapped a one-year postseason ban on UConn in June—due to a below-standard Academic Progress Report Rate—the 6'9" Oriakhi decided to transfer to Columbia for his senior year; he is eligible to play immediately.
The Tigers overwhelmed opponents with their speed and stamina last season, getting 30 victories under first-year coach Frank Haith. Their Achilles' heel was size, and it proved fatal in their upset loss to Norfolk State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Not anymore. Oriakhi is one of five players who are 6'9" or taller. (So long, four-guard lineups!) He is also one of seven transfers and one of eight upperclassmen. Along with 6'8" forward Laurence Bowers, who returns for a fifth year after missing all of the 2011--12 season with a torn left ACL, Oriakhi brings leadership, defensive tenacity and an on-court rapport with the 5'11" Pressey—one of the nation's premier point guards—to a team that must make the transition from the Big 12 to the SEC.
Oriakhi is up to the task—he started on the Huskies' 2011 national-title-winning team as a sophomore—and he has also improved his conditioning to meet the demands of Haith, who runs pressure defenses and pick-and-roll offenses at breakneck speeds. After arriving at 263 pounds, Oriakhi has shed 25 and pared his body fat from 15% to 8% by running on the treadmill and eliminating fried foods and sweets. Haith is hoping for one more change. "He has such a jovial spirit," says Haith. "I'd like him to be a bit meaner on the court."
A nasty streak, relentless pressure and size—hardly a dream scenario for Tigers opponents.
ROUND OF 32
ROUND OF 64
Projected Starting Five
COACH Frank Haith (2nd season)
2011--12 RECORD 30--5
BIG 12 14--4 (2nd)
WHAT'S BACK Minutes: 29.3% Points: 29.7% Rebounds: 15.9%
*2010--11 stats at Pepperdine
‚Ä†2010--11 stats at Auburn
‚Ä°2010-11 stats at Missouri
¬ß2011--12 stats at UConn
||Junior college stats
75.5 INCHES, the average height of Missouri's roster last season, which ranked 313th in the country. This year the Tigers' average height has increased to 77.6 inches.
DAVID E. KLUTHO
PHIL PRESSEY After succeeding last season at small ball, the junior playmaker now has a bevy of bigs at his disposal.