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In the next few days, the Olympic medal race for men’s basketball will begin taking shape. But that picture won’t include Linas Kleiza. The former MU forward and current Toronto Raptor scored just 4 points in Wednesday’s 9-point loss to Russia in the quarterfinals, eliminating Lithuania from medal contention. It’s a familiar position for Kleiza: just short of expectations.
On May 29, 2003, Kleiza signed a scholarship agreement, officially becoming part of the MU basketball family. Quin Snyder, MU’s coach at the time, said in a press release that Kleiza was “an outstanding player” and that he would “make an immediate impact for us.” Regarded by many as one of the top 20 recruits in the nation (he played his final years of high school basketball for a U.S. prep school), Kleiza was unquestionably the highest profile player Snyder had signed in his first five years at MU (and, as it would turn out, ever). MU opened the 2003-04 season ranked in the top 5, but the team limped to just 16 wins. Kleiza, who missed the second half of the season with a shoulder injury, returned for a sophomore year, but that, too, was nothing but repeated disappointments. He declared for the NBA draft after the season, and arguably the most talented Tiger in a generation has become an afterthought in Columbia.
One year after Kleiza’s departure, Snyder was also out, his coaching career at MU ending in disgrace. Snyder, who has bounced around mid-level coaching positions in the NBA since leaving Columbia, still hasn’t been able to shake his past. In July, Snyder accepted an assistant coaching position for a professional team in Russia, putting him smack dab in the center of obscurity.
Kleiza and Quin had a lot in common. They both came to Columbia full of promise, and they both left with fans wondering what went wrong. They mark a dark time for MU basketball. But that’s in the past. Today, MU, led by head coach Frank Haith, appears to be on stable ground, finally. And, like Kleiza and Quin, he’s also headed to Europe.
This week, the MU men’s basketball team embarks on a 10-day trip to Europe for a five-game exhibition schedule. His team, like Snyder’s 2003 squad, is expected to do big things this season and is picked by many to content for an SEC championship this spring. Also like Snyder, Haith’s had his share of disappointments and scandals. But Haith does have one huge edge on Snyder: His team actually seems like a team, and the pieces are all there.
There’s no telling how well Haith’s pieces will come together this year. MU will be replacing five seniors from last year’s 30-win team, but there will be no shortage of experience. Seniors Laurence Bowers, Mike Dixon, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell provide that in excess. Phil Pressey has already proven to be the best point guard MU has had in well over a decade. And the incoming recruits will provide depth last year’s team simply did not have. All signs point to positive results.
But as with all things, appearances can be deceiving.
- Men’s basketball recap
- The culmination of dreams and living vicariously through others
- What your favorite Olympic event says about you
- Michael Dixon, former MU basketball guard: A story told in headlines
- Frank Haith competes in the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge yet again
- Women’s gymnastics final recap
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