July 20, 2009

Tiller, Taylor playing for history

The Missouri Tigers were the feel-good story of the 2008-09 college basketball season. Picked to finish seventh in their own conference, the Tigers finished in the top eight in the country, winning 31 games before falling to Connecticut in the West Regional Finals.

Off of that team, the Tigers have lost not just 40.4 points, 15.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists that were contributed by seniors DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence, but also the steady senior leadership the trio provided. Throughout summer workouts, a new trio of seniors is trying to replace both of those aspects.

"We're trying to put our stamp on it," said senior guard J.T. Tiller. "We're trying to put that Zaire and J.T. and Keith smell to the team."

Along with Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey are charged with getting this Tiger team back to where that Tiger team ended up.

"I think what we have in front of us, we have a little bit easier of the path than DeMarre and Leo had.," Taylor said. "We have to lead seven other guys who have been to the Elite eight, whereas DeMarre and Leo, they had to lead us to a place where they'd never been and nobody else had ever been."

Tiller says he is almost back from post-season wrist surgery. He and Taylor will continue to lead the team through another two weeks of summer conditioning before taking a short break before the school year starts. In two months, they will begin practice with their teammates, taking the first steps up the mountain they climbed a year ago and now must ascend again. They know the enormity of the task ahead and they know they will have to be at the head of the pack to make the journey again.

"I feel like this is, this could be some of our biggest chances. I don't know, I feel like as a person, everybody wants to leave some kind of mark in life," Taylor said. "Whatever it is, whatever you want to do, a scientist, a journalist, you want to break a story. I feel like this is our chance to show. Some of us might never play pro basketball, NBA, overseas. We might never make it to the NBA. I feel like this is our chance to really show that we can make Missouri basketball what it was. Bigger than it ever was. That opportunity, I mean, it doesn't really occur to anything that has yet to occur in my life.

"It's just that hunger, the passion for the game. Even deeper than that, the passion to have an impact in life. It just is a game, but at the same time, it's history too."

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