For the second straight season, Mizzou men’s basketball has a roster that doesn’t really resemble the one from the previous November.
The Tigers are replacing a program great in Los Angeles Clippers rookie Kobe Brown. Sharpshooting, pickpocketing D’Moi Hodge is in the NBA, too, with the Los Angeles Lakers. Buzzer-beating hero DeAndre Gholston is gone, as is oft-used sixth man Tre Gomillion and G League-bound Isiaih Mosley.
In all, Mizzou has 11 new faces on its 18-man roster ahead of its season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which tips at 7 p.m. Monday at Mizzou Arena.
But MU coach Dennis Gates has made a roster overhaul work before, as he took MU to fourth place in the Southeastern Conference and its first March Madness win in over a decade last season with no less than 12 first-year Tigers.
Here are three newcomers who might have the biggest impact on Missouri’s 2023-24 season:
John Tonje (Colorado State transfer)
He was Gates’ first transfer recruit in the offseason, and he may very well be among the most important.
John Tonje, a Colorado State transfer, dazzles on film. He’s direct, fast and shows a deft touch shooting.
After four years of frequent action that saw him surpass 1,000 points for the Rams, the 6-foot-6 guard makes the move over to Columbia after his best season. He averaged 14.6 points and started all of CSU’s 33 games.
Tonje also represented Cameroon at the FIBA-Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament in Nigeria in August.
Gates complimented Tonje’s stats and style “on both ends of the courts” during an April availability. He also credited the guard’s “intangibles,” comparing him to Hodge, Gholston and Gomillion as far as the type of player Gates has built his programs on.
And as we’ve learned, a proper fit is as good as gold in the Gates system.
“I didn’t really know exactly what I was looking for, but I saw (Missouri’s) pace, I saw the way that they approach things and the way that they structure their practices,” Tonje said. “And just the way that they think gets us not only to a high level this year, but also it takes us, you know, to the next level, professional careers.”
Caleb Grill (Iowa State transfer)
If there’s a player that feels like a plug-and-play option in Gates’ system, it’s Caleb Grill. Even battling through a lingering injury last season at Iowa State, Grill showed his potential as an elite guard.
He can shoot: Grill shot 36.8% from 3 last season.
He can create turnovers: The Wichita native averaged more than steal per game.
And he can do it against the best: He made seven 3s in a 31-point outing against then-No. 1 North Carolina last season.
Grill has the potential to fill Hodge’s shoes. He won’t shy away from taking shots, which is a staple of Gates’ playbook.
And he’s feeling good about the move.
“I feel like I’m better (offensively) than I have been my whole life,” Grill said, “and just being able to see myself improve that way, it’s been … just kind of refreshing.”
Jesus Carralero Martin (Campbell transfer)
Oral Roberts big man Connor Vanover, freshman forward Trent Pierce and Indiana transfer Tamar Bates all easily could have made this list.
Although Jesus Carralero Martin is flying under the radar more than most newcomers, Missouri fans should be intrigued by the Campbell transfer’s potential.
His playmaking ability stands out on the stat sheet, with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio last season while averaging more than 3.5 assists. For a player who stands at 6-7, those are intriguing numbers — especially on a roster packed with potentially hot-handed guards.
But that’s not what he wants to be limited to, and he feels Gates’ system will allow him to show off his entire arsenal.
“Compared to Campbell, I feel like (Missouri) gives me a lot more freedom,” Carralero Martin said. “At Campbell, I was just limited to being a passer. Either a passer or (at the) low post, creating for other people and all that. …
“(I’m excited) to play natural, and I feel like that’s what I’m best at: to play natural, play free. I’m good at a faster pace. At Campbell we were more limited, using all 30 seconds on the shot clock, so that’s the biggest change I’ve seen here so far.”
The Star has partnered with the Columbia Daily Tribune for coverage of Missouri Tigers athletics.