Like the Gophers’ Trevor Mbakwe, Laurence Bowers tore his ACL early in the year last season, and like Mbakwe, Bowers received an extra year (his fifth) from the NCAA to come back and spend another year with Missouri.
But unlike Mbakwe, Bowers has already found his place in the Tigers’ starting lineup and figures to be a major force this season.
Mbakwe has come off the bench for the Gophers in all four games this season and coach Tubby Smith has said he doesn’t see “any reason” why he would put the forward in the starting lineup with his current starting five – that brought the team to the NIT final last season – clicking.
Haith held out Bowers when the team played in Europe over the summer, but in the preseason the forward stood out.
“We started practice and he really went after it,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Laurence has been terrific. He’s a guy as I talk about our team will get better and better as the year goes on.”
The difference, of course, with the Bowers scenario is that Missouri had just one starter returning to the lineup from last year’s successful NCAA tournament squad, so regardless the lineup was shifted a lot and a new style adopted.
“He’s not Kim English at that 4 spot,” Haith said, referring to his former power forward, who graduted. “We played with four guards last year, but he can make an open jump shot, and there’s other things he can do that Kimmy couldn’t do and that’s be very versatile on the defensive end and knock balls loose and block shots. And we can use that.”
VCU experimented with Navy Seal training over the summer, and one of the more memorable experiments was what the players called “the ice boat.” A rubber boat with three planks across was filled with ice and water (mostly ice, Troy Daniels said). Players had to dive into the boat and go under each plank and come up after each for a breath.
“It’s not the same breath that you take when you’re just swimming,” coach Shaka Smart said grinning. “Some of our guys had a real tough time with it, one of the guys in particular, but they all made it through.”
It’s obvious that Tubby Smith and the Gophers are excited to be at this tournament, but the coach is coming in as a realist. Asked what the advantages and disadvantages of playing in such a deep field are, Smith said: “Losing them all – that’s the disadvantage. How do you recover from something like that? But you hope that your team, even if they don’t come out on the winning side, they can measure themselves against other opponents from different parts of the country and different conferences and it gives us a good indication of where we are as a team. But even if you did not perform well and play well, you’re going to learn some things. You’re going to learn one way or the other, win or lose.”
The team was able to practice in Imperial Arena for the first time on Wednesday morning after getting in around Midnight the night before. “It’s a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be and a lot darker, but it’s a pretty nice court and I think the atmosphere will be real fun to be in,” Rodney Williams said.