COLUMBIA, Mo. – Kassius Robertson’s shoes have become a topic of conversation lately.
It began in last Saturday's game at Kentucky as pictures of his ripped gold shoes appeared on the broadcast and on Twitter. It was also a topic of conversation in Thursday’s media availability.
Asked if he has been wearing them since high school, Robertson laughed and said, “Those Kobe’s didn’t even come out when I was in high school.”
He got the shoes at the beginning of the season and has stuck with them. Robertson said he likes to play in shoes that he has broken in.
While they aren’t the flashiest shoes on the court, they perfectly resemble Robertson and Missouri’s senior class as they head into senior night Saturday against Arkansas.
Robertson, Jordan Barnett and Brett Rau aren’t about flash. Though they’ve made some highlight-reel plays, it’s all about the work, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.
“You like being around them, because they are good people. They put a lot of work into their craft on the basketball floor,” Martin said. “They are good guys away from the game. Guys you wouldn’t mind being around.”
Before the season, they weren’t necessarily the guys you thought would be leading Missouri in most statistical categories.
All of the talk was surrounding Missouri’s top-five recruiting class, and for good reason. Missouri pulled in top-100 players Michael Porter Jr., Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon, along with top-150 players Blake Harris and C.J. Roberts.
With so much young talent, Barnett – who transferred to Missouri after spending two years at Texas – said he knew they would have to step up even more as leaders. Good teams mix their young talent with experienced upperclassmen.
They had no problem taking over that role.
“We had no choice but to try and lead these guys and help them understand what it was really going to be like once we hit SEC play and the tough games in nonconference,” Barnett said.
Expectations were high coming into the year. For the most part, Missouri has reached those expectations. A win Saturday would give Missouri 20 wins for the first time since the 2013-14 season, but it’s not been the way many envisioned.
Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 player in the 2017 class, has been injured and has played only two minutes. Harris and Roberts transferred, leaving Missouri with just Tilmon and Jontay Porter available from their highly touted freshman class.
Martin said Thursday that Porter Jr. could return Saturday, depending on how he feels. It’s been Robertson and Barnett leading the way.
For Robertson, Missouri’s leading scorer at 16.7 points per game, this role wasn’t something he envisioned when he transferred from Canisius. He’s the Tigers' best option to be picked as a first-team All-SEC player.
“I definitely was expecting a different role in terms of what I was going to be coming into the team. I was really happy with that role. That’s why I came here in the first place, because I wanted to be, I don’t want to say a smaller piece to the puzzle, but coming in I thought I would be a smaller piece to the puzzle,” Robertson said. “With the circumstances, I had to come in and produce more than I thought I was going to have to. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by amazing players, which have helped me play the way I’m playing. There is no way I could do it by myself.”
And he hasn’t had to.
Barnett is the team’s second leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points and shooting 41 percent from deep. Unlike Robertson, Barnett isn’t a vocal leader.
“I try to do whatever I can in practice and in games, and, hopefully, some of the younger guys will follow suit,” Barnett said. “(Robertson) has been a really good leader for us. (Kevin Puryear) has been a really good leader for us, as well. I tend to let them handle the vocal parts. I just try to handle my part on the court.”
More than leading the team in statistical categories, Martin said it’s important for the culture of the program to have seniors like Robertson, Barnett and even Rau, who, as a walk-on, has had to play this season with the shrinking of the roster.
“For young guys watching them, it’s about how they go about their business. I never take for granted that a guy is a walk-on if he leaves. Brett goes about his business. You never take that for granted. One of my best friends was a walk-on at Purdue, and I thought he was a tremendous leader,” Martin said. “For me, the leadership isn’t your production on the floor. It’s the everyday stuff, how you go about your business through tough times. Are you going to class every day? (Robertson) could check out, ‘I’ve already graduated. I don’t need this degree.’ But he works hard and puts forth a great effort. He doesn’t have to do that. That means a lot to me and for the young guys. Those are the things that you want to learn.”
Saturday will be their last game at Mizzou Arena, and tickets for the game are posted on Stubhub from $89 to a pair of tickets selling for $500, as of Friday afternoon.
Throughout this year, they’ve adjusted to different roles on the Mizzou Arena floor, but their leadership, the most important role, has never wavered. No matter how many rips are in their shoes.