College Sports

Despite Mark Smith signing, Cuonzo Martin still needs guards

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin. The Associated Press

Despite the recent commitment of Illinois transfer Mark Smith, Missouri men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin is still on the hunt for guards and wings.

Martin met with reporters Thursday to wrap up the 2017-18 season and said he fully expects Missouri to use its two open scholarships, assuming freshman Jontay Porter stays in the NBA Draft.

Missouri had an in-home visit Tuesday with St. Louis point guard Courtney Ramey, a consensus top-60 prospect who was once committed to Louisville. The Tigers also plan to host Evansville transfer Dru Smith for an official visit April 27. Smith averaged 13.7 points and 4.6 assists per game last season and would have two years of eligibility remaining.

With the addition of Mark Smith, Missouri can boast four players from the St. Louis area on next season’s team. Martin said he believes in recruiting momentum, which will help given the area’s loaded 2019 class features the Tigers’ top target, E.J. Liddell.

“It has to be good for the guys that came before,” Martin said of momentum around St. Louis. “In that area from what we hear, everyone is excited about it. We have to keep fighting and keep pushing.”

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said on April 19, 2018 that center Jeremiah Tilmon is trying to become more of a three-point shooter after spending most of his freshman year in the post.

With Missouri appearing set on big men for next season’s team, Martin expects more from Jeremiah Tilmon and Mitchell Smith. Martin said Tilmon has been taking 1,000 three-pointers a day on his own and has improved the mechanics of his shot after sometimes palming the ball when shooting from outside or at the free-throw line.

Despite Tilmon’s added range, Martin’s not sure if it will change he 6-foot-11 center’s identity as a player, even with the NBA favoring big men who can shoot.

“I don’t know if that will become who he is as a basketball player,” Martin said. “He plays around the rim, runs the floor, is a physical presence.”

Mitchell Smith sat out last season after redshirting while he recovered from an ACL tear and Martin has been impressed with his play. He has added 20 to 25 pounds of muscle the past season and even guarded the point guard spot during some workouts.

Martin said Smith has also showed an ability to hit threes.

“I was surprised by his level of toughness,” Martin said. “He doesn’t back down from challenges.”

Notes

  • Martin said Jontay Porter hasn’t been with the team much as he’s been back-and-forth between Chicago and Columbia while he trains for the NBA Draft. Combine invitations are sent April 27 and Martin said he’d be shocked if Porter is not invited. With the way the NBA has changed its draft process, Martin thinks Porter will have all the information he needs to make the best decision for himself.
  • Martin used recent signee Xavier Pinson as an example why the NCAA needs to keep summer basketball despite the recent FBI probe. Pinson’s ability to play with the Mac Irvin Fire, one of the top programs in the country, is a major reason why the 6-foot-2 floor general went from a low-major prospect to high-major prospect in a year, Martin said. “When Xavier plays for that program, the exposure got him what he needed,” he said.
  • Illinois transfer Mark Smith signed with Missouri on Monday and Martin simply called his newest player a guard, rather than saying he’ll play more at point guard or on the wing.
  • It’s too early to tell whether junior guard Cullen VanLeer’s knee injury is career-ending. Martin said he hasn’t discussed with VanLeer whether a return makes sense. Martin had said a possible return in December was possible shortly after VanLeer had surgery.
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