Kobe Brown is doing everything to try to lift Mizzou

Forty seven seconds into Missouri’s Tuesday game versus Paul Quinn, junior Kobe Brown reeled in his first rebound. Thirty nine minutes later, Brown was still in the game, corralling his final rebound — his 23rd — followed by his 19th and 20th points to cap off an historic night in an otherwise entirely forgettable game.

The Tigers were rightfully blowing out an NAIA team, and alongside Brown were freshmen Anton Brookshire, Sean Durugordon and Kobe’s brother, Kaleb — with the latter two only playing the final four minutes. Kobe, whose teammates aren’t shy about how important he’s been for them, probably shouldn’t have been in the game while up more than 30. And perhaps coach Cuonzo Martin was okay with him chasing history. But no matter the circumstances, it felt fitting.

Kobe was being looked to at the end of that game the same way he was when the ball was first tipped. The same way he’s been depended on in every game prior. And it’s going to be the same way for the remainder of the season if Missouri plans to remain relevant.

“He’s been our best player since the season started,” junior DaJuan Gordon said. “He’s bringing guys along to play better, as you see today we started to play better. Just seeing better makes everybody else have to step their game up.”

Kobe’s effort marked the first 20-point, 20-rebound performance by a Tiger since 1980. As much as Paul Quinn’s name and talent level will get tossed around, the junior forward was +45 in his 34 minutes. Missouri was outscored by 13 points when he wasn’t on the floor.

“He’s a good basketball player,” Martin said. “But he’s been in the program. He’s a three-year starter, so you expect him to play well in games like these. But I think the thing that makes him special: He’s a guy that just plays basketball. It’s not a case where, ‘I need to score the ball, get my shots’. He plays basketball. Get rebounds, find the open guy.”

As a third-year starter, Kobe was expected to uphold a certain level of consistency this year. But not many might have predicted the jump he’s made this season, and every bit of his effort so far has been necessary to keep his group afloat. He’s nearly doubled his scoring output. His 2.9 assists per game are the second-highest on the team. And his 9.6 rebounds per game put the 6.2 boards he averaged a year ago to shame.

Even in this new role, in which Kobe is being asked to do things he didn’t necessarily have to on more talented teams in his days as an underclassman, he’s clicked as quickly as Martin has needed him to. Martin proposed the idea of the 6-foot-8 forward playing some point guard throughout the season. While he forced some of those looks as a playmaker in the Tigers’ season opener against Central Michigan — which resulted in four turnovers — he’s ultimately come around and looked comfortable as a playmaker.

He doesn’t need to bring the ball up. He doesn’t need to be the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. He’s looked as good passing the ball as anyone Martin has deployed when he gets into his spots, which are typically the elbow, the low block and the top of the three-point line. While Kobe is currently averaging as many turnovers as assists, it’s the threat he poses as a passer that has given Missouri some refreshing offensive freedom at times in games filled with a lack of creativity on that end.

There’s been an evident switch in comfortability for Kobe in all facets of his game. As a scorer, he’s had flashes where he could put the ball on the floor, find his own shot and pull-up for a jumper. He’s posted 20 points on three separate occasions through the Tigers’ first seven games — a mark he only hit once through his entire first two seasons. He has rebounded with the best in the league, ranking third in rebounds per game in the Southeastern Conference.

Kobe has elevated his game, and he’s been a necessary breath of life for a MU team that has at times appeared to be drowning through a 4-3 start. Missouri has undoubtedly evoked its fair share of questions — many of which either haven’t been answered or have been met with answers that fans have outright avoided. Through a quarter of the season, Kobe Brown isn’t one of them.

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