Over the weekend, the Tigers
played, and beat up on, the Tigers of Tennessee State
University, giving us all an abject lesson in the ugliness of Tiger-on-Tiger crime in college athletics with a final score of 68-38. It was not exactly a nail-biter.
The Tigers (the Mizzou ones, that is), started off slow -- again -- but pulled away in the second half, with the bulk of the work being done by their big men. Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi both finished with double-doubles, with Bowers in particular simply imposing his will on the opposition. Of course, beating up on a small school opponent is exactly what Mizzou should be doing, and guys like Bowers and Oriakhi should be overpowering. That's how this year's Tiger team is going to work, if it works.
There was one performance on the night, though, that could end up being noteworthy in a way the others weren't, as Mizzou fans got their first extended look at a player with as much talent as anyone in the program in Stefan Jankovic.
Coming into the season, it wasn't expected we would see a whole lot of Jankovic, and so far that's mostly been the case. After all, true freshmen rarely see big minutes on the floor (except for one-and-done types, that is), particularly when you're talking about a program set up as well as Missouri in terms of current talent.
What we have seen, though, has been exciting. Jankovic scored eight points earlier this season against Alcorn State, showing off plenty of athleticism and length in doing so. Against Tennessee State, though, Jankovic took his game to another level entirely. He scored 14 points, all in the second half no less, and pulled down five boards as well. As unstoppable a force as Bowers was, imposing his will down low, Jankovic provided the most dynamic presence for Mizzou.
At 6'11", he can play center or forward, with more than enough size to overmatch most collegiate opponents. What makes Jankovic so intriguing, though, are his ball-handling and shooting abilities. Despite that near-seven foot size, this is a player capable of working out on the perimeter if need be, as well as camping out down low. He doesn't have the strength of Bowers or even a player like Oriakhi; he's less of a power forward than a hybrid player for now.
The downside with Jankovic is all about strength. That 6'11" frame is currently carrying 215-220 lbs, and he just doesn't have the kind of functional strength yet to clear out space down low. That sort of low-post dominance will probably never be Jankovic's game, honestly, considering how wide his base of talents is, which makes this Missouri team a nearly ideal situation for him. There are more than enough big men on this team that Jankovic won't need to camp out under the basket anytime soon.
I doubt we see Jankovic's minutes expand dramatically just yet, to be honest. Frank Haith knows what he's doing with this team, and there simply isn't a need for Jankovic to take on more responsibilities immediately. As the season goes on, though, I think there's a chance he makes it impossible to keep him off the floor. The Tigers have plenty of talent this year, and an unusual amount of that talent is in the form of big, athletic players. Jankovic, though, has a dynamic quality to his game no one else currently in the program can match. He isn't a finished product yet, by any means; this is a kid who needs to add size and strength in a big way, and learn how to use that frame to make space for himself. But we all got a glimpse of the talent, and that talent points toward an extraordinarily bright future for both the player and the program.