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Anderson returns to Mizzou Arena

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson yells instructions during last month’s game against Missouri in Fayetteville, Ark. The former Missouri head coach will return to Mizzou Arena tonight as the Razorbacks play the Tigers.

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson yells instructions during last month’s game against Missouri in Fayetteville, Ark. The former Missouri head coach will return to Mizzou Arena tonight as the Razorbacks play the Tigers. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — As Mike Anderson prepares to return to Mizzou Arena today as Arkansas’ head coach, the Missouri basketball team is playing the role of silent observer regarding the matter.

Missouri coach Frank Haith said he only wanted to worry about the game at hand. The only two Tigers who played under Anderson, Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers, were not made available to speak to the media as the team readies itself for today’s game (6 p.m., ESPN-TV).

But Anderson was more than willing to speak about his time at Missouri, sort of marveling in the success he had during his five seasons on the Tiger bench.

“That was Year 6 and I thought it was timed like the perfect storm,” Anderson told reporters in Arkansas on Monday. “You had seniors in your program. Guys who came in as freshmen were on the Elite 8 team. Not only that, the Pressey brothers had a year up under their belt, Ricardo (Ratliffe) had a year up under his belt. That was a team that probably could have contended for the Final Four. I really thought that. It was the perfect storm.”

Anderson was not shy Monday when talking about how he and his staff helped build up Missouri’s program that was in a tough situation after Quin Snyder was fired during the 2005-06 season.

After failing to reach the postseason in his first two years as coach, Missouri took off during the 2008-09 season, going 31-7, winning the Big 12 Tournament and reaching the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament

“The fans that know me and know my staff, the things that we walked into and witnessed what took place, there was no passion about basketball, anyway,” Anderson said. “Now the passion is back and even as I left there, there is passion.”

Anderson helped revive the program, but things began to slide in his final two years. Missouri barely made the NCAA Tournament in his final season and dropped a first-round game to Cincinnati 78-63. That team struggled at the end of the season, losing five of its final six games. An 88-84 win against Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament was all that stood between Missouri and a complete collapse.

Then came rumors Anderson might be leaving for Arkansas, even after he told media outlets he wanted to retire in Missouri.

Anderson ultimately left Missouri a short time later, leaving fans, and at the time players, upset over how he exited. He also left without a recruiting class in place, leaving Missouri with nine scholarship players on the roster and only one freshman.

After Bowers’ injury and Kadeem Green’s decision to transfer early in the year, Missouri had to play with just seven scholarship players for the bulk of the season.

Anderson said his decision to leave was not an easy one.

“It was grueling,” he said. “A lot of soul- searching a lot of praying. A lot of consulting. It’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I was really close with our kids and still am close with the players there. We had the program in the best shape it had been in many many years. Not necessarily from the basketball standpoint, but from all aspects.”

While Missouri mostly kept quiet on the matter, center Alex Oriakhi, who is in his first year at Missouri, said he didn’t know what to expect, but “heard the energy level was going to be crazy.”

As for the reception Anderson expects to get from fans when he walks into Mizzou Arena, he’s not sure.

“The people that know me and my staff and the things that we stand for can appreciate what we did, and at the same time you’re going to have some people who may not agree with that,” Anderson said. “Sometimes those are the most vocal ones.”

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