The Missouri men's basketball team leaves Wednesday for a trip to Europe. The Tigers will tour France, Belgium and the Netherlands, playing five games before returning Saturday, Aug. 18.
During a news conference on Friday at Mizzou Arena, coach Frank Haith said that he hopes his players will get a little culture while they are there. But he also didn't hide his enthusiasm to see the new-look Tigers compete beyond the practice court and hopefully begin to build a new identity.
"It'll be tremendous to see the guys play together," Haith said. "We have so many different combinations. We'll learn a lot about our team, and that's the biggest thing."
Missouri returns only three players (Michael Dixon, Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers) who have actually played at the school before, and two of those three will not compete in Europe.
Pressey sprained his knee in practice this week, giving Haith the excuse he was looking for to sit the point guard.
"It ended up being a blessing from my perspective," Haith said. "Now I don't have to listen to him gnaw at me the whole time to put him back in the game."
Bowers will also sit out. After missing last season with a torn knee ligament, the senior forward has been practicing, but Haith saw no reason to risk bringing him back too early.
The trip will force first-year players such as Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and Alex Oriakhi to establish a rapport. Bell, a guard, and Ross, who can play guard or small forward, sat out last season after transferring from Pepperdine and Auburn, respectively. Oriakhi, a forward, transferred from Connecticut in the spring and will be eligible immediately because of that school's ban from this season's NCAA Tournament.
Haith hopes that guard Jabari Brown, who transferred from Oregon but won't be eligible until after the fall semester, will also be able to play. He suffered a thigh bruise in practice Thursday.
"We've been playing against each other for so long," Ross said. "This is big because we have a lot of talent on the team, but without chemistry you can't win games."
One thing is certain: Even if this Missouri basketball team plays like last year's team, which went 30-5 and won the Big 12 tournament, it will look different.
"That team was so cohesive, they all knew their roles. Game in and game out, it was pretty much determined what was going to happen," Haith said. "Versatility is the strength of this team. We can do a lot of different things. We have so many different parts."
When Bowers was a freshman in 2008, he traveled with the team for a similar trip to Canada. Later that year, the Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight. He said he hopes this trip will lead to similar results, and that it would start with the team realizing its potential on defense.
The addition of Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward, will give Missouri more of a presence up front and on the glass. Bowers said the team's stable guards also rebound well.
"From a defensive standpoint the team has a chance of being really great," he said. "If we put it together, I think this team has a chance of cutting down the nets."
To prepare for the trip, Missouri has practiced with the different basketball used in Europe and is studying other differences such as wider lanes on the court. Haith joked that he also looked forward to seeing the players' reaction to, in his opinion, the less-than-savory food.
In other news, the Tigers announced Thursday that they would play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Nov. 22-24 in the Bahamas. They face Stanford in the opening round. The event includes Duke, Louisville, Memphis, VCU, Minnesota and Northern Iowa.