If you wonder about Missouri point guard Phil Pressey's competitive nature, it helps to know how he responded to a challenge from his older brother. Matt Pressey had just started dunking when he dismissed his little brother's chances of ever stuffing a ball through the hoop.
"I said, 'What?!,'" Pressey recalled Thursday. "The next two years, all I did was calf raises."
Pressey, then 14 or 15 (he couldn't remember which), did enough calf raises to one day get himself up and over the rim.
"First day I dunked it, after that, I heard nothing more out of him," Pressey said of his brother Matt.
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But Pressey, newly minted as a dunker, did hear from his high school coach.
"I got in trouble for missing dunks," he said. "I missed five or six one season trying to dunk the ball."
That captures the yin and yang of the player who leads Missouri against Kentucky on Saturday. He's a gifted athlete who's capable of startling bursts of quickness and playmaking. But he's also a player whose go-get-'em attitude can trump prudent judgment.
Pressey's 19 assists at UCLA in late December equaled a Southeastern Conference record and was the most by a player from a BCS conference school since Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves in 2000.
The junior's turnovers in late-game situations hurt Missouri in road losses at LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
"When I say I know every way to lose a game on the road, I know every single way," said Pressey, the only holdover player from last year's team. "I know from now on, when I go on the road again, I've been put in every possible situation I could be put in. I'm going to know how to read that situation."
Pressey's irrepressible, irresistible David-versus-Goliath persona was put on full display this week. After committing a career-high 10 turnovers in a 31-point loss at Florida last month, he had 10 assists on Tuesday in leading Missouri to a victory over the No. 5 Gators.
"The guy I was really, really impressed with was Pressey," Florida Coach Billy Donovan, a former point guard himself, said in the post-game news conference. "I really thought he did a terrific job of running his team, limited number of shots (five), got the ball where it needed to go, made the game easy for everybody else. I thought he really played within himself."
Not trying to do too much has been a consistent message from Missouri Coach Frank Haith.
"We need Phil to be Phil," he said last month. "Just be patient. Base hits, not home runs."
Besides his quickness, Pressey's most noticeable attribute is his size, or lack thereof. Missouri lists him at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds. He's the smallest and the youngest of four siblings. His father, Paul Pressey, was a 6-5 wing who had an 11-year NBA career.
"I always thought I'd grow and be like him," Pressey said of his father. "It never happened. That's just life. Some are tall. Some are small."
The elder Pressey, now an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, laughed as he offered an explanation for his son's height.
"My wife's 5-2," he said.
A precocious Pressey began compensating for his lack of size early on. He perfected the shot fake as a 5-year-old.
"He had to use his mind to out-think the other person (and) to get them off balance," Paul Pressey said. "So he could use his speed and quickness against their size."
Pressey said he'd never been timed in a 40-yard sprint. Thanks, in part, to those calf raises, he has a 39-inch vertical leap.
Given his size, the surprise is that Pressey didn't begin playing basketball as a point guard.
"I was a ball hog," he said. "All I wanted to do was shoot.
"My dad noticed I wasn't growing. I wasn't going to be a shooting guard. He said, 'Son, you need to start passing the ball.'"
Pressey led the Big 12 in assists (6.4 per game) and steals (2.1) last season. That persuaded reporters to vote him the SEC's pre-season player of the year. He's leading the league in assists (6.9) and ranks second in steals in SEC play (2.0). Yet in SEC road games, Pressey has more turnovers (33) than assists (30), and he has made only one of 23 three-point attempts.
Haith said Missouri doesn't rise and fall on Pressey's play.
"We don't need it to be that way," the Missouri coach said. "We had games where Phil didn't have to score and we won convincingly. We need other guys taking on that role and doing a little more where it doesn't come down to how well Phil does that determines how well we do as a team."
Missouri at Kentucky
When: 9 p.m. (ESPN)