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8 Missouri
Kelli Anderson
November 24, 2003
A workhorse senior helps guide the Tigers, who may be the nation's deepest team
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November 24, 2003

8 Missouri

A workhorse senior helps guide the Tigers, who may be the nation's deepest team

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Rickey Paulding#



17.4 ppg


Travon Bryant#



5.8 rpg


Arthur Johnson#



9.6 rpg


Josh Kroenke



3.5 ppg


Jimmy McKinney#



8.6 ppg


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 competitiveness.

"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."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]