COLUMBIA, Mo. – Want a true glimpse into the unselfish nature of this year’s Missouri Tigers? Check out the following scene after Missouri’s win over Kansas last Saturday night.
Kim English was explaining the importance of a charge taken late in the game by teammate Steve Moore when typically serious senior Marcus Denmon interjected.
“Steve and Kimmie are some of the best charge-takers ever,” Denmon said.
Then Michael Dixon, sitting with them and coach Frank Haith, raised his hand.
“I took a charge, too,” Dixon said, sending the room into a fit of laughter.
That Dixon wanted to get credit for a charge, an unofficial stat not kept by the NCAA, is not surprising. It was one of four the Tigers took against Kansas, and the offensive foul Dixon drew late in the second half against the Jayhawks’ Tyshawn Taylor helped win the game.
In addition to serving as an example of the joy the Tigers take in doing the little things, drawing charges is one of the reasons the Tigers are 22-2.
Missouri has drawn 50 charges through 24 games, which is more than the 40 the Tigers drew in 34 games last season. With a lack of overall size and shot-blocking that ranks near the bottom of the Big 12, this is how the Tigers protect the rim with only two true big men in their rotation, Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore.
“I’m amazed at that number,” assistant coach Ernie Nestor said. “ Plus, it’s a total team statistic, because it stops the other team from scoring and it gives you the ball.”
The Tigers are led in this category by English, who has 23, and Moore, who has 13. Their individual totals are posted on a sheet of paper inside the locker room, which is by design.
“We’ve got to be a team that moves our feet and gets great position because we’re small,” Haith said. “If we don’t take those plays, and we don’t give up ourselves and give up our bodies, it makes it very difficult for us to have success.”
One of the ways Haith and his staff have promoted this ideal is through accountability. When players fail to take a charge, it’s pointed out in film and Haith uses a term he borrowed from a friend, Miami Heat president Pat Riley.
“We show them on tape when they dodge,” Haith said with a certain satisfaction. “When they bail out and don’t take a charge, that’s a dodge, and that’s kind of an embarrassing thing.”
Haith said the Tigers have had a couple of dodges throughout the season – ” which they don’t keep track of because it “would be degrading” – but the positive plays far outweigh the negatives.
“A guy like Ricardo, who has never taken a charge in his life, he’s got (five),” Haith said. “Phil (Pressey) and Matt (Pressey), they haven’t taken many in their life either, so those guys are buying in.”
Every player in the seven-man rotation has taken at least one charge this season. And 5-foot-10 point guard Phil Pressey – the last player in the rotation to not draw a charge – got on the board Monday against Oklahoma.
“I was the only one without one,” he said. “People always dodge me for some reason, but I finally got a chance to take one, so I’m happy.”
But while the Tigers have shown a commitment to sacrificing their bodies for the good of the team, it isn’t always easy to do. It requires toughness, both physical and mental .
Nestor said the coaching staff emphasizes the proper way to take a charge, so as to minimize the risk of injury. After all, the Tigers go only seven deep, and any ailment could be devastating.
The first thing you do, Nestor said, is make sure you position yourself in front of the semicircle located under the basket. That’s common sense. Then you have to get your body squarely in the path of the attacking offensive player. That’s common sense, too.
Step three, however, you may not know.
“The key is you have to lower your center of gravity so you don’t take the impact straight up,” Nestor said. “If you bend your knees, you’ll fall back on your fanny usually, which is where you have some padding.
“Doing it the right way keeps it from being dangerous. If you’re standing straight up, when you fall back, your head can snap back and bang the floor, and that’s what you don’t want.”
Proper form, however, cannot keep you from getting posterized, which is where the mental toughness kicks in.
English, who is easily Missouri’s most accomplished charge-taker, knows this all too well. Remember the Oklahoma State game on Jan. 25, when he tried to draw a charge on Markel Brown, only to see the high-flying swingman barrel into the lane and throw down a vicious dunk that made “SportsCenter”? English sure does.
“He got me,” English said. “Usually with the athletes, you want to get right in their legs before they take off because that is a danger. You have to be in position where you can plant yourself outside that arc pretty quick.”
English hasn’t let that play affect his unselfishness. In the four games since MU lost to the Cowboys, he’s taken four charges.
“It’s really just anticipation, being in the right position and being willing to step in there,” English said. “Because it’s not easy.”