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Missouri, Evansville engage in public battle over Dru Smith transfer waiver

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Missouri and Evansville are engaging in an increasingly public battle over the offseason transfer of junior guard Dru Smith.

After a promising sophomore season in which Smith averaged 13.7 points and 4.6 assists per game for the Purple Aces, he opted to transfer to the Tigers when Evansville fired head coach Marty Simmons and replaced him with Walter McCarty.

Smith’s transfer to Missouri didn’t come as any sort of surprise. He was also expected to miss the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. But when Missouri was granted an NCAA waiver that allowed another offseason transfer, guard Mark Smith from Illinois, to play right away, questions started to arise if Dru Smith (unrelated to Mark) might also be receiving a waiver to play this season.

On Monday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Ben Frederickson wrote a scratching column that directly accused Evansville of preventing Smith from receiving a waiver to play right away — citing a source close to Smith.

From Frederickson’s column:

Don’t blame the NCAA for this one.

The answer is Evansville.

The NCAA denied Mizzou’s initial attempt to secure a waiver for Dru Smith. A source close to the player confirmed Monday that Evansville did not cooperate with the waiver request. An Evansville spokesman declined to comment on the program’s stance. It was unclear Monday if Mizzou can challenge the NCCA ruling.

There is a lot of he-said, he-said going on between Mizzou and Evansville. That’s common in these situations. But the big picture seems clear. Evansville changed coaches because it wanted a fresh start, but it does not think Dru Smith deserves the same. The Purple Aces have planted a petty flag.

On Wednesday, Evansville responded to those accusations with a long public statement from athletics director Mark Spencer. Spencer and the Purple Aces are claiming that they’ve cooperated with Missouri’s waiver request, but they also refuse to support inaccurate statements about Smith’s transfer.

Evansville is claiming that Missouri wanted the Purple Aces to admit in the waiver claim that they had “run off” Smith so that he didn’t have a place on the team thanks to the coaching change. Spencer denied the “run off” claims, stating that Smith, and all Evansville players, were properly notified about everything involving the coaching change while being given the opportunity to sign financial aid agreements for the future.

In the statement, Evansville also said that Smith emailed Spencer informing him of his decision to transfer on March 29th — six days after McCarty was hired. In the transfer email, Smith told Spencer his reason for leaving was, “mainly because the opportunities that I have are too hard to pass up.” Evansville also said that Smith was publicly supportive of the McCarty hiring when it happened.

Based on Evansville’s thorough response to Frederickson’s claims, it appears that they’ve been willing to help Missouri’s waiver process — but only if that process was truthful in their eyes. While Missouri is likely frustrated that they can’t get Smith eligible right away when they could use another point guard option, you also can’t fault Evansville for wanting to protect the integrity of their program.

It’ll be interesting to see if Missouri, or any Missouri-based columnists, respond to Evansville’s side of things.

For now, Smith is still scheduled to sit out the 2018-19 season based on NCAA transfer rules.

Missouri’s Mark Smith receives NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility

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Missouri added some quality depth to its rotation on Friday night as the program announced that Illinois transfer Mark Smith will be immediately eligible for the 2018-19 season after receiving a waiver from the NCAA.

An offseason addition from the Illini, the 6-foot-3 Smith is a former top-100 prospect who averaged 5.7 points and 1.4 assists per game during his freshman season. Making 19 starts, the former Mr. Basketball in Illinois originally committed to Missouri for baseball before blowing up in basketball and selecting the Illini over Missouri out of high school. But Smith never found his footing with Illinois as he decided to transfer to Missouri this offseason.

With Missouri recently losing sophomore forward Jontay Porter for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, the Tigers can use all of the rotational depth they can get. Smith figures to potentially earn some minutes at the point as he’ll compete with Jordan Geist and Xavier Pinson. Since Missouri lost senior guard Cullen VanLeer to retirement just a few weeks ago after a torn ACL, Smith can come in right away as an adequate replacement.

The Tigers are still awaiting word on a waiver for Evansville transfer Dru Smith, as Missouri is hoping the 6-foot-3 Valley transfer can provide even more perimeter depth.

For now, the Tigers will be happy just to add Smith, as he has a chance to come in and earn immediate minutes next season.

Four-star 2019 forward flips commitment from Big Ten to SEC program

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Four-star 2019 forward Tray Jackson flipped his verbal commitment from Minnesota to Missouri on Friday night.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decommitment from the Golden Gophers on Twitter and then announced a commitment to Missouri a little more than two hours later. Regarded as the No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, Jackson reclassified from the Class of 2018 and saw his recruitment blossom in the summer.

While decommitting happens in basketball recruiting semi-frequently, flipping a commitment to a new school within a matter of hours is a very uncommon practice. Typically associated with football recruiting, Jackson’s switch is a big deal for Missouri.

His pledge gives head coach Cuonzo Martin an athletic and versatile frontcourt player with upside as Jackson could play multiple positions. The Tigers missed on E.J. Liddell, but Jackson is a nice prize to land instead. Missouri now has two four-star prospects in the Class of 2019 as Jackson joins four-star guard Mario McKinney.

Minnesota needs to replenish its recruiting efforts as they are now without a commitment in the Class of 2019. With head coach Richard Pitino facing pressure to win this season, this isn’t good for the future of Golden Gopher basketball either.

Missouri lands in-state guard Mario McKinney

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Missouri landed another St. Louis prospect Monday, this one with a Tigers lineage.

Mario McKinney, a top-150 point guard prospect in 2019, committed to coach Cuonzo Martin and Missouri, giving the Tigers their first commitment in the class.

“In my neighborhood, a lot of kid don’t get the opportunity I have,” McKinney said in a commitment video he posted to social media. “I just took that, and I ran with it.

“I will be attending the University of Mizzou.”

McKinney is the cousin of Jimmy McKinney, who played for the Tigers in 2002-06.

“With the McKinney name on my back,” Mario said, “it holds a lot because the McKinneys before me.”

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 17 points, six boards and four assists last season while starring at Vashon High School, which he has led to back-to-back state championships.

“He came in as a freshman and was athletic with some quickness and a level of toughness about him,” Vashon coach Tony Irons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Now as you watch his growth you can see he’s developed. He’s not complete yet, but he’s someone with the skill level of being able to play Division I basketball.

“He’s gotten better at making people better. He kept his competitiveness. He’s gotten more athletic. He’s constantly working on his shot. He’s on his way to becoming a complete player.”

Martin, who hails from East St. Louis, Ill., has cleaned up in the St. Louis area since taking over the Tigers two years ago. He’s landed five players, including Jeremiah Tilmon, from St. Louis during his tenure, making one of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas and basketball hotbeds a stronghold for the Tigers.

Missouri adds late piece to 2018-19 season with three-star guard

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Missouri had a scholarship open up earlier this week when a knee injury forced senior guard Cullen VanLeer into an early retirement.

Seeking some help on the wing for this season, the Tigers landed a very late commitment for the Class of 2018 on late Friday night as three-star guard Christian Guess committed to Missouri with an announcement on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Guess is a native of Cleveland, as he is allegedly a late qualifier who could be eligible for the upcoming 2018-19 season. According to reports from Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou.com and Eric Bossi of Rivals.com, Guess said that he will enroll at Missouri on Monday as he will attempt to play this season.

While some Division I players have committed right at (or near) the start of the academic calendar, Guess will be attempting to enroll at Missouri even though the fall semester started on Monday, August 20. Every school is obviously different with regard to handling late enrollments, so it’ll be fascinating to see if there are any issues with Guess joining the team so late.

If Guess is eligible for the 2018-19 season, he could give the Tigers some much-needed perimeter depth to an inexperienced group. The only senior in the equation is Jordan Geist while redshirt junior Ronnie Suggs, sophomore K.J. Santos and freshmen Javon Pickett, Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson will all compete for perimeter minutes along with Guess.

Knee injury forces Missouri senior guard Cullen VanLeer to retire

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Tuesday afternoon it was announced that Missouri senior guard Cullen VanLeer has decided to retire, just over six months after he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during a game against Arkansas. VanLeer appeared in 31 games last season, starting 13, and he averaged 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game.

“This was a difficult decision, but one that was best for me, my family and my future quality of life,” VanLeer said in a statement. “I’m beyond excited for the season ahead and I’m ready to help lead our team to success in any way I can while I work toward graduation and earning my degree.”

VanLeer’s retirement leaves the Tigers with one less experienced guard to call upon in 2018-19, with Jordan Geist being the lone senior in the perimeter rotation. Freshmen Javon Pickett, Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson, sophomore K.J. Santos and redshirt junior Ronnie Suggs will all compete for playing time this season.

VanLeer has retired under a medical designation, which means that he’ll be able to keep his scholarship and it will not count against the 13 allowed to a program per NCAA rules.