COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri head men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin has noticed a difference in redshirt freshman Parker Braun over the past month.
Martin believes the Overland Park, Kansas, native has taken his care for the game to another level.
That compelled the third-year Tigers coach to reward Braun with the first significant live action of his collegiate career Monday night in a 75-56 win over Wofford.
With his father in the Mizzou Arena crowd, Braun played 10 minutes and made both of his field goal attempts on back-to-back possessions in the first half.
Along with Braun’s four points, he recorded two rebounds, a steal and a ferocious second-half block, swatting the ball into the Missouri student section.
“He’s an intelligent player,” Martin said. ”... If he was probably 10 pounds heavier, he’s at a whole other level because he understands, he knows what’s going on. ... In the last month or so, he’s really starting to put the work in, the extra hours, and he’s going from liking basketball to loving the game. That’s when you’ll see him grow.”
The insertion of Braun into the Tigers’ rotation, while teammates such as Mitchell Smith and Tray Jackson didn’t play against the Terriers, is thanks in part to his work ethic.
Braun said he’s taken his game to a higher level by being uncomfortable in practice and pushing himself in terms of what he thinks he can do.
“Hopefully it’s been getting me better and more ready,” Braun said.
Braun didn’t know if or how much his number would be called against Wofford. But when it was, he knew he had to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I think it’s always a possibility,” Braun said of being called upon. “If coach sees something that I can bring to the table, then I’m going to go out there and try and win.”
Martin said he wasn’t surprised by Braun’s production and called him the best interior shot blocker on the team.
Braun’s typical practice role is on the Tigers’ scout team, where he battles Jeremiah Tilmon for long stretches.
Tilmon has grown from a raw freshman into who Martin believes is one of the Southeastern Conference’s standout players.
Braun admittedly still has plenty to work on, but the path Tilmon has taken is something Braun can aspire to replicate.
“We already know he’s going to go in there and play hard,” Tilmon said of Braun. “We all know what he can do. He plays so hard, he’s got bounce. ... He just goes hard. That’s our biggest thing, just going hard.
“Him going against me every day, that’s helping him, too.”
Tilmon said Braun was quiet when he first arrived in Columbia but that Braun has gotten more vocal over the past year.
Braun started his MU career as a walk-on but was placed on scholarship in May. He was an AAU teammate of former Tiger Jontay Porter with the Kansas City-based MoKan Elite.
Braun comes from a basketball family, with his mother, uncle and aunt all previously playing for Missouri.
One family member not suiting up in a Tiger uniform, however, is his brother Christian: He plays for Kansas.
Parker’s path will cross with Christian on the hardwood next season, as well as with his close friend, former AAU teammate and Columbia native Dajuan Harris, who is redshirting with the Jayhawks this season.
“It’s awesome. My family was thrilled to hear that,” Parker Braun said of the return of the Border War. “I think the first person I heard from was my mom. None of the coaches, social media, anything. My mom called me. She was like, ‘The Border War is back!’ ... I get to play (Christian and Dajuan) in Kansas City, in Lawrence and here. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”
Braun’s trajectory at Missouri may change for the better following his performance Monday.
It could serve as the first step toward a more consistent role with the Tigers.
“I’m waiting for him to dunk on somebody,” Tigers guard Mark Smith said of Braun. “He’s a great basketball player, he’s smart. He can really make a lot of things happen.”