Phil Pressey has heard the skeptics question his size his entire life, but finally he’s proven he can play — and excel — in big-time college basketball. There’s a reason why Missouri was so effective a year ago, and Pressey was the key.
He’s a diminutive, pass-first point guard who didn’t get the size of his father or brother, but he’s learned how to utilize his God-given abilities. Pressey is a blur who averaged 10.3 points, led the Big 12 in assists and steals, and is ready to take a new group in Columbia and keep the Tigers among the nation’s elite.
Pressey offers his views on a variety of subjects, including the new Missouri transfers, his initial thoughts on Frank Haith and the first time he dunked.
Pressey's Missouri team checked in at No. 16 in our Countdown.
What is the toughest place you have played in your career?
Kansas. Obviously, it’s sold out every single night, and the fans are diehard and would do anything for the team to win. Last year, before the jump ball, I was trying to talk to Kimmie (English) and tell him what defense we were in and he couldn’t even hear me. The game hadn’t even started yet. It was crazy. All he could see was my mouth moving.
Who is the toughest guy you’ve ever had to guard?
Tyshawn Taylor. He always had the green light to shoot, so you never know when and where he was going to shoot it from.
What college coach, besides Frank Haith, would you want to play for?
Coach K (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski). I think it would be a lot of fun to play for him. He’s coached the best players in the world in the Olympics and in college.
Missouri is headed from the Big 12 to the SEC this season. Are you excited or disappointed?
A little of both. My family lives in Texas, so they were able to see me play in Texas about four or five times every year. But it’ll be cool to be in a new league with new teams, defenses and coaches. It’ll be fun to go to different places. I’m really looking forward to going to Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. Everything’s new to us, but we’ll have (Auburn transfer) Earnest Ross to give us some tips since he’s been in the league.
You guys have a ton of new faces. Four transfers are eligible this year. Most of us know Alex Oriakhi, who helped lead UConn to a national title two years ago. Who are the other guys?
Jabari Brown came from Oregon, and he’s a guy who can really shoot the ball. He’s probably the best shooter on the team. Earnest Ross (Auburn) is a combo forward who is big, strong and athletic, and Keion Bell came from Pepperdine. He can score in all types of ways and is crazy athletic. And you know all about Alex.
How much credit do you get for Alex’s transfer to Missouri?
I take a lot of it. We’ve known each other for so long, and he wanted to play with me. I know he wants to finish his career on a high note, winning and being successful, and he felt like he could do that here at Missouri. He’s already excited to be here and is shocked that we’re actually running plays for him in practice.
You lost a couple of draft picks in Kim English and Marcus Denmon, along with Ricardo Ratliffe and your brother, Matt. However, is it crazy to say this group may be more talented?
Not at all. Top to bottom, I think this team is more talented. But last year we had the work ethic, the chemistry and the basketball IQ was off the charts. We’ll see how it goes this year, but we need to establish the same kind of chemistry.
You’ve never been the most vocal guy in the world. Will that change this year with all the new players in the program?
I have no choice. I’m trying to tell guys what to do and make sure everyone is on the same page. I’m used to trying to be nice whenever I say something, but now I’m getting on guys a lot more. I’ve got to if I want to be a leader.
How many times have you watched your loss to Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament?
I haven’t. We worked so hard all year and it was all gone so fast. We had a terrific regular season, won the Big 12 Tournament, and we went from such a high to such a low in such a short period of time. It’s crazy. I still don’t believe it. Usually I take it tough when we lose any game, but this one was obviously different. I felt like a little kid again and wanted to cry. It was hard for me because it was also my brother’s final game playing with me — and we just didn’t expect to go out like that.
The main reason you wound up at Missouri in the first place was because of former coach Mike Anderson. He and your dad are close friends. When he left for Arkansas, why did you stay in Columbia?
It was crazy when he left, but I felt it was a business move for him. He did it because it was right for his family. He was the one who brought me here, but I felt as though I could play for any coach, and I just didn’t want to leave and sit out an entire season and watch. It made it easier for me when the rest of the team decided to stay.
What did you know about Coach Haith when he was hired to replace Mike Anderson?
My high school coach grew up with him, so he told me about him and that he was a great coach for point guards. I connected with him right away, especially when he said he’d put the ball in my hands. That’s what he told me — and he’s been right so far.
What area of your game did you focus on this summer?
Being able to pull up and shoot it. I can get to the basket with my speed and my perimeter shot has improved, but I need to add that aspect of my game where I can pull up and make shots. If I can do that, I’ll be more dangerous and effective as a player.
Do you get mad when people talk about your size and question whether you are big enough to play at the next level?
It just makes me work harder. Whether it’s positive or negative, I try and use it as motivation to get in the gym and work. I’ve always had to prove people wrong who questioned whether I’d make it.
Your brother is 6-2 and your dad (former NBA player) Phil Pressey is about 6-5. Is that difficult to deal with?
It was in the past, but now I’ve come to accept it and also understand that I’m able to do some things that he isn’t because of my size. My dad told me at the end of my senior year that I need to just be who I am. I feel like now I can do anything he can do, even though he’s taller. I’m more athletic, so I try and take advantage of that.
When was the first time you were able to dunk?
I remember it well. It was in after freshman year (in high school) and I was with Ron Giplaye in the gym. I was probably around 5-7 then and I was using a girls’ ball. I used to try and dunk all the time. This time I got it and went crazy. I told everyone. My mom didn’t even believe me, so I sent her a video so she could see it.
Have you always been a pass-first point guard?
In middle school I used to shoot the ball all the time. I never passed. In seventh grade, my dad told me that I wasn’t getting my teammates involved enough. I listened to him and started passing, but back then I used to try and score 40 or 50 points.
You’ve been busy this past summer going to the Chris Paul, Deron Williams and LeBron James camps. What was the best advice you picked up along the way?
Chris Paul and I talked about leading a team and making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. Point guards have the ball in their hands 90 percent of the time. The game starts and ends with you. We talked a lot about leadership and that’s a big part of what I have to do this season.
Who was the most impressive player you saw at the camps that surprised you?
Mike Moser of UNLV. He played really well. He rebounds, runs the floor and can shoot it and also score in the post. Tony Mitchell was also really good, but I knew all about Tony — especially because he was supposed to come to Missouri.
Visit the online store for Missouri and other editions of the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual.
What do you like to do when you aren’t playing or practicing?
Watch movies and play video games. I hang with my teammates a lot. My favorite movie? “He Got Game.” I love playing Call of Duty, but I don’t play as much as I used to. I felt I was the best on the team last year, but I bet Marcus Denmon would tell you the same thing.
Your biggest asset is your speed. Any idea what your 40-yard dash time is?
No. I might try and do it with the football guys, though. I want to see what I’d run in the 40. But basketball speed is different. It’s rare I actually go all out and sprint.
I’ve seen coaches yell at you over the years for throwing no-look passes and tossing the ball off the walls. Have you toned it down a bit?
Absolutely. I used to guess on passes, but now I make sure I’m on the same page as my teammates. I’ve learned to value the ball more since I got into college and now I don’t take nearly as many chances. But I still throw a behind-the-back or no-look pass at times. Just not nearly as much as I used to. Sometimes when we watch film, Coach Haith gets into me for a crazy pass, but my assist-to-turnover ratio was about 3-to-1 last year. I want to get it to 4-to-1 this season.
Who is the best point guard in the country?
Other than myself? I don’t know. I don’t know who’s going to be No. 2. That’s not up to me. I just want to be No. 1.
Who do you like to watch and who do people compare you to?
I love Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. A lot of people compare me to T.J. Ford because of my size, but I honestly feel like I’m my own person.