Mizzou's Cuonzo Martin not bothered by players leaving, happy with new additions

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

As the transfer portal becomes more inhabited by college basketball players looking to find new homes, Missouri head men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin isn't shocked by its population. 

Nearly 1,400 Division I players have entered the transfer portal, an average of more than four per team, with six coming from the Tigers' 2020-21 roster

Yet with Martin's belief in players' rights to choose where they suit up, balanced with his excitement for next year's team, the overwhelming total doesn't bother him.

"I think with (Xavier) Pinson, Torrence Watson, Ed Chang and Parker (Braun), who still have eligibility, and Drew Buggs and Mark Smith, those guys have graduated. So they have an opportunity to do what they want to do," Martin said. "... I think it's great they have an opportunity to go do other things."

As of Wednesday afternoon, Missouri stood at two open scholarship spots available.

The Tigers have inked three players through the transfer portal to go alongside five incoming freshmen and the trio of active players returning to Columbia.

"I like the three guys we have coming into our program and I like the high school prospects we have coming to our program," Martin said. "So I think it's a great thing on both sides because again, if it's a rule, then give guys the opportunity to do what they want to do. If they want to go somewhere else and play and be successful, have fun, whatever it is they're looking for, give them the right to do that.

"So it wasn't a problem for me at all."

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin calls out to players during a game against Mississippi on Feb. 10 in Oxford, Miss.

Wednesday's Zoom session with Martin was the first time he had spoken with local reporters in around a month, since immediately after the Tigers' first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Oklahoma. 

Since then, nine active players from Missouri's most recent roster have exited the program for various reasons, with Martin confirming Jeremiah Tilmon, Dru Smith and Mitchell Smith all intend to sign with agents to pursue professional basketball.

Missouri's nine departures are the most among Southeastern Conference programs, but Martin had long expected turnover this offseason with a large senior class. 

The Tigers now transform from one of the most experienced teams in the country to a squad that largely has never played together.

There are connections that can help form synergy quickly. Kobe Brown, Javon Pickett and Jordan Wilmore are the returning trio from this year's team. Sean Durugordon also has been in Columbia since January practicing with the team. 

Incoming freshmen Anton Brookshire and Trevon Brazile played together at Kickapoo and helped the Chiefs win a state title this season. 

Brown's younger brother, Kaleb Brown, is another incoming freshman. The Brown brothers will team up once again after they previously played together at Lee High School in their hometown of Huntsville, Alabama.

While the three Missouri additions via the transfer portal have never played together, Amari Davis, DaJuan Gordon and Jarron "Boogie" Coleman bring collegiate experience to a team that doesn't have a lot of it. 

"Anytime you can add scoring, if it fits what you're trying (to do), you always want to add that, whether it's an interior or perimeter guy," Martin said of filling out his roster. "I think also interior action activity and that, for us, it's not necessarily a four or five, it's just a guy that can play on the interior, a physical brand, a level of toughness, experience, all those sorts of things."

Martin didn't — and due to NCAA rules can't — expand on the identities of players he and his staff are targeting for the final two roster spots, but he did mention that not filling one of them is an option on the table. 

While Martin doesn't plan to have 12 or 13 players given equal playing time, it takes a group that large to effectively practice, he said. 

Martin may not have a pecking order for the players who will be in Columbia next season, but he does have a trajectory in mind for them.

He mentioned Brazile and Durugordon as two players who are as skilled as overall athletes as there are in the SEC. Kaleb Brown is looked upon with a Draymond Green-style, a player who can contribute all over. For 3-point shooting, Martin likes Brookshire and Coleman to lead the way, with guys like Pickett and Kobe Brown hoping to improve in that area.

As Missouri's roster makeover nears completion, Martin eyes progression as his next step and developing his new batch of players.

"I love the challenge. I've always enjoyed practicing in June and July. That's like Christmas to me, so to speak," Martin said. "We have guys on campus weightlifting, working together, having fun. But you're talking experienced guys with the transfers. These are three guys that are battle-tested and played in games, scored the ball.

"... If we add one or two other pieces, I really like where we are."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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