Fri Oct 01 11:29am EDT
The signature shot of Missouri guard Marcus Denmon's college career so far is the 70-footer he hit before halftime two years ago to spark the Tigers to a surprising Sweet 16 victory over Memphis.
As much as he enjoys reliving that memory, he'd like to make some new ones this season.
Denmon, Missouri's second-leading returning scorer, expects to move into a starting role this year after serving as an offensive spark plug off the bench for a Tigers team that made the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. The 6-foot-3 junior joined me earlier this week to talk about his childhood nickname, his newfound interest in academics and the sky-high expectations he has for Missouri next season:
JE: You guys have been pretty good your first two years, but is this the most talent you've had at Missouri since you've been there?
MD: I feel we do have a lot of talent. We have a lot of guys who have been here and we brought in guys who are talented and play the way Coach Anderson likes to play. Coach Anderson demands hard work, so once you get here all you're going to do is work hard and get better.
JE: I knew you grew up in Kansas City. Did you grow up a Missouri fan?
MD: I didn't really become a Missouri fan until high school because I was more of a football fan growing up.
JE: Just as long as you don't say you were a Kansas fan. That could get you in trouble, right?
MD: No, I'm not really part of that hatred of Kansas. I grew up liking Missouri and Kansas equally and then in high school, I started liking Missouri more.
JE: Why did you choose Missouri out of high school?
MD: The bond I made with the coaching staff, coach Zimmerman and coach Anderson. Even though I had other high-majors looking at me, I felt they really wanted me here and I could come in and play right away and help the program win. They had two down seasons before I got here, so I thought if I came here and helped turn the program around, that would be a big accomplishment at my home-state school.
JE: I remember reading that your family and friends back home all call you "Boobie." How did you get that nickname?
MD: My cousin gave me that name before I could even talk. Everyone around the neighborhood calls me that and all my friends and family call me that.
JE: How tough on you was it to get used to Coach Anderson's fast-paced 40 minutes of Hell pressure defense when you first got to Missouri? Was it a difficult transition?
MD: I felt if anyone adjusted well, it was me because it was the way I've always played -- an up-tempo style and fast-paced games. The only thing that was difficult for me was the pace was faster and there's that intensity level you have to come with every day. But I felt I adjusted to that pretty well.
JE: I know you haven't started practice for real yet, but are any of the young guys a little wide-eyed at the stuff you're doing to prepare for the season?
MD: We wake up every morning for 6 a.m. workouts. Just doing those you can see a lot of the guys that have been here have a routine they go through getting ready. I've seen the young guys looking at us to see what they should be doing to get ready for early morning workouts. A lot of that stuff is new to the guys because they don't really do that stuff in high school.
JE: The 70-footer you hit before halftime against Memphis in the Sweet 16 two years ago is kind of a signature shot for you and for the program. How often do people bring that up with you?
MD: I hear that pretty often. Kim English, he won't let me forget about it. He reminds me of that shot at least once every week or two. He'll send me a text and just say something random like, "I can't believe you made that shot. It didn't touch nothing, not even the rim." It's something that Missouri basketball fans definitely remember, and it's probably going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
JE: Had you taken a lot of those type of shots messing around?
MD: Me and my brother and my cousin used to play around seeing who could make it from half-court first, so we used to shoot that a lot. It's funny because the other day we were doing something for the media and I made a half-court shot on the first try. Everyone was kind of laughing about it.
JE: So in another words, if you guys find yourself down three with a second or two to go, you're the go-to guy?
MD: Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'd be the guy.
JE: You had the team-best GPA last year, and I remember you saying before that you weren't the best student in high school. How did academics become a bigger priority for you?
MD: At home, my grandma tried to force academics into my head, but I was one of those teenage kids that school and grades really didn't jell with. It wasn't that I couldn't do it, but I didn't really put the effort in. It was one of those things I had to learn as I got older and got to college. Once I got here, I did what I was capable of. Coach Anderson always stresses grades, and the highest GPA on the team just came when I put that in my head.
JE: You were fantastic early last season, but you struggled with consistency as the season went along. Where did you try to improve your game this summer in order to be as consistent as you'd like to be?
MD: One of the things I try to work on is being consistent, and you be consistent by taking good shots. I feel like even more so this year, our team will look to me to be a leader with us losing J.T. (Tiller) and Zaire (Taylor). Coming into the summer, I decided as a junior I would take ownership of that so I worked on being a leader to the younger guys. I also worked on my ball-handling, creating on my own off the dribble so I can create open shots for myself that I can knock down. And on the defensive end, I worked to become a lock-down defender that can guard the other team's best player night in and night out.
JE: Kim English has an alarm clock that he wakes up to every morning that says "National Champions 2011" on it. Is that unique to him, or do you all have something similar to that?
MD: Different guys have different things. Our goal every year is to try to make it to the national championship. We feel that's something we can obtain if we work hard enough. Myself, I always think about losing in the second round last year. Every time I come out and ball, that's the motivation that keeps me going.
JE: Would anything short of contending in the Big 12 and a deep NCAA tournament run be a disappointment to you guys next season?
MD: The guys here, the players and the coaching staff, really feel we need to be reckoned with around the country. We feel that anything short of a national championship is a disappointment. An Elite Eight, a Final Four Those are goals we want to obtain. We really do want to try to reach those goals and get Missouri to its first Final Four and the way we do that is take care of business one game at a time.