Mizzou Basketball Player Preview: Justin Safford

Mizzou basketball season unofficially tips off Friday night when the Tigers host Harris-Stowe in an exhibition game at Mizzou Arena. Leading up to tip off, KBIA Sports Extra reporters Ross Taylor and JJ Stankevitz will be discussing what they expect from each of the members on Missouri’s roster this season.

JJ: Just when things started to go well for Justin Safford his junior year, his season was cut short by a torn ACL suffered against Colorado. He looks to be completely healthy now—Safford told me the team’s media day back in mid-October that his explosion/jumping ability was fine, and it’s looked fine in the three instances I’ve seen him play so far—so what are your expectations for Safford in his senior year? Does he pick up right where he left off last February or does he go through some adjustment period?

Ross: Even if he’s 100 percent healthy, there’s going to be an adjustment period. For any basketball player rehabbing from a torn ACL, much less a big man, there’s going to be a period in which they’re either consciously or subconsciously testing out the stability of their knees. I know Mike Anderson practices his players hard, but there’s nothing that can simulate jumping, cutting, spinning and landing at full speed in a physical Big 12 game. Like you mentioned, Safford had really started to complete his game prior to his injury last season. How does Safford’s skillset complement the arrangement of pieces Mizzou is expected to have on the floor along side of him?

JJ: We discussed this in our preview of Ricardo Ratliffe, but I’ll say it again: Having Ratliffe down low could, in theory, open up Safford for more open jump shots. He’s pretty consistent at hitting those, but he also is fairly adept at getting to the rim—something we saw him improve on last year before his injury. In general, his offensive game fits Mizzou’s offensive system well, especially when Ratliffe is out on the floor (not to take anything away from Laurence Bowers, obviously). But if there’s an area in which Safford is deficient, it’s rebounding. He only averaged about four rebounds per game last season, which, for a forward is pretty low. Safford has always been described as a guard in a forward’s body—he played guard in high school before a growth spurt grew him out of the position—and his lack of rebounding somewhat speaks to that. Can Safford improve his rebound production or will he stay in that 4-5 range in his final year at Mizzou?

Ross: Are we presuming he trusts his knee completely? Going up for the ball with a mass of limbs waiting for you to come down can be a scary proposition. My concern for Safford’s rebounding is the same as my concern for Bowers—his rebounding his based on lankiness and athleticism, rather than size. Will his athleticism be back up to par after all of his rehab? I can’t guarantee that. The other side of the coin is matchups. The Big 12 isn’t getting any smaller or any slower. 4-5 isn’t a terrible range for Safford to be in, but I think any big in the conference has their work cut out for them to pull a significant number of boards in the Big 12 Conference.

Here’s what Safford had to say about his recovery at the team’s media day in October:

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