Saxophone, recruiting & redshirts: Missouri Tigers’ Dennis Gates gives offseason update

It’s no secret that Mizzou basketball’s 2023-24 season was less than ideal.

It’s something that head coach Dennis Gates understands more than anyone. That’s why he and his staff are hoping to use it as an opportunity for growth while a busy offseason gets underway at Missouri.

What did he learn from last year’s 8-24 (0-18 SEC) season?

“I think most importantly, how to continue to make sure you have consistency through all of our obstacles,” Gates said. “I thought the thing that you can always go into next year with ... is our guys fight, man. They give their very best, and that’s an identity of our program, the type of team-building that we do, that type of growth and development when we see players improve.”

Gates mentioned guards Sean East (SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year) and Tamar Bates (13.5 PPG, 49.5% shooting) as two players who improved last year.

“Those guys improved drastically, and that’s something that you can always carry over because players want to get better,” Gates said. “And you’ve got to prescribe them with the proper player development to get them better, but also allow them to grow individually and obviously try to fulfill their dreams and aspirations of becoming a pro basketball player.”

A host of newcomers could also help the Tigers achieve their goals for improvement.

The Tigers welcome five incoming freshmen this summer — the No. 4 recruiting class in the country. One of those players is four-star small forward Annor Boateng out of Little Rock, Arkansas, who just won a 6A state title with Little Rock Central.

“It was great honestly, especially being my senior year, being able to go out with a bang,” Boateng said. “A state championship was always one of my biggest things on my bucket list, and it’s just like a great reward for all the hard work I put in.”

Boateng is the No. 29-ranked recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

He has a quick pit stop before he arrives on campus this summer, with his participation in the Nike Hoops Summit on Saturday.

“I’m here to represent not only my last name, but my ethnicity, my people, my home country, my mom and dad, even represent my high school and everybody I’ve grown up with and Mizzou as well,” Boateng said of the event. “Just show them, hey, I’m a great person. I’m a great representation. ...

“I’m there also to have a good time as well. So I’m just looking forward to this great opportunity I’ve been given.”

The event is held annually for the top U.S. men’s and women’s high school players to play in a showcase against other top players from around the world.

“It’s a good experience, especially being on a world team,” Boateng said. “Everyone’s coming from a different country and like different places around the world representing different people. And it’s just a great overall connection because I feel like it’s a deeper meaning when you’re with the world team.”

It also forces teammates to work to understand each other, Boateng noted, considering there are “language barriers at times.”

“Some people don’t even speak English or not fluently,” he said. “But it’s just a great experience to be a part of that, and overall I’m just taking everything in, learning different things from them, learning about their culture as well.”

The Nike Hoops Summit is set to tip at 9 p.m. Saturday on FS1 — for the men’s game. When it concludes, Boateng is looking toward his June arrival to Columbia for summer classes and getting in the gym.

“Overall what they want me to improve on is just, you know, my guard assets,” Boateng said. “So just being able to be a better ball handler, being able to read pick and roll, just being able to become a knockdown shooter, just little things like that.”

Mizzou landed Boateng in September of 2023, but Boateng noted that Mizzou was in communication with him early in his recruitment. When it came down to his decision over schools like Indiana, LSU, Arkansas and others, Boateng remembered that Gates and his staff took interest in who he was off the court — specifically, with one of his extracurriculars.

“What really stood out to me is that they even made me play my instrument when I was there,” Boateng said. “They made me play the saxophone, which no other school has ever just showed interest. They knew I played an instrument, but they never just showed interest like that, (which) really set them apart. (It) showed like, ‘Hey, we’re here for you, and we really are invested in who you are.’”

And sure enough, Gates isn’t just excited to see Boateng playing on the court.

He wants him to play the National Anthem before a Tigers game next season, too.

More on the Mizzou basketball roster

Boateng and the rest of the freshman class won’t be the only new faces for the Tigers this season.

Mizzou added a top shooter in the portal in UT-Martin’s Jacob Crews, and Gates hopes to add more firepower.

“Obviously, sort of point-guard play when we look at Nick Honor and Sean East’s departure,” Gates said. “The other part I think is more of a combo guard, meaning guys that can really get it off the bounce and score.”

Also of note for next season: Paperwork has been filed for medical redshirts on Caleb Grill and John Tonje. Grill sustained a wrist injury against Wichita State on Dec. 3, while Tonje last saw the court on Jan. 13 against South Carolina.

“The most important thing with their medical history is that they didn’t pass or surpass the game threshold to get their waiver,” Gates said. “There should be no issues. We’ve started that paperwork immediately after the season for their extra year, and that’s the most important part (to ensure) there shouldn’t be any hiccups.

“We have taken the extra measures, meaning with our compliance but also with our trainers and doctors to document what was needed to be documented in a way, that these guys are protected. ... So there shouldn’t be any issues with them getting extra years.”