Press Box: Time was right at Missouri

Anderson the best choice for Tigers coach

Kevin Ollie probably isn’t the best coach in college basketball, and the University of Connecticut didn’t have the best team this season.

But against long odds, the Huskies became the first No. 7 seed to win the NCAA Tournament. And they did it under Ollie, who was just in his second season.

Kim Anderson isn’t the best coach in the country, he admits that, and Missouri is not UConn. But make no mistake; Anderson is the right man to guide the Tigers.

“I’m not the best coach in the country, but I can steal from anybody,” Anderson said when he was introduced Tuesday as the 18th men’s basketball coach in Missouri history. “My staff at Central Missouri used to cringe every day. They didn’t want me to watch TV at night because they knew I’d come in the next day with some play.”

Critics of Anderson say he is too old, doesn’t have Division I head coaching experience, doesn’t know how to recruit D-I talent.

The 58-year-old addressed those concerns Tuesday. He mixed in some humor, too.

“Apparently, I’m old,” he said. “I really had no idea until (Monday). And I have to tell you it devastated me. I work out every day. I’m in pretty good shape.”

Then he paused and said, “Seriously, I’m just coaching, guys. Old ballplayers coach.”

He’s right about that.

Those who doubt Anderson need to take a closer look at his track record before calling Missouri’s hire a mistake.

“His background, not only as a coach, but even as a player is going to help him,” said Jefferson City boys basketball coach Blair Thompson, who was a graduate assistant under Anderson for three years at Central Missouri.

“He knows what Division I talent is, he can recognize it, he can recruit it and he can sell the university,” Thompson added. “It’s easy to sell something when you believe in it. You could not hire a guy who is more invested in that university. That’s the place he’s always wanted to be.”

It has taken the Sedalia native a long time to get there, but every stop Anderson has made has prepared him for this job.

Anderson was the Big 8 Player of the Year in 1977 while playing for former Missouri coach Norm Stewart. He is also served under Stewart as an assistant from 1982-85 and again from 1991-99.

In between his time with the Tigers, Anderson served six years as an assistant coach at Baylor under Gene Iba.

While he wasn’t a head coach, that’s 17 years worth of experience at major college basketball programs. He knows what the Division I level is all about.

Here’s something else to consider: After being passed over for the Missouri job following Stewart’s retirement in 1999, Anderson left coaching for two years to serve as assistant commissioner of the Big 12 Conference.

That was also an asset.

“The time I spent with the Big 12 was unbelievable,” Anderson said. “I had access to all those coaches — Bobby Knight, Rick Barnes, Roy Williams, etc., and I got to see, I got to learn a lot about basketball in those three years.

“That certainly helped me when I went forward to Central Missouri.”

Anderson won a lot of games while guiding the Mules. In 12 seasons, he compiled a 274-94 record, led Central Missouri to three Division II Final Fours and most recently capped that off with a national championship in 2014.

Yes, winning a national title was critical to being tabbed as the head coach at Missouri. But Anderson was a proven winner long before that.

Current players at Missouri also downplay the notion of their new coach coming from the Division II ranks.

“If you can coach, you can coach,” Missouri sophomore Ryan Rosburg said. “You can see what he has done by looking at his track record. He’s going to get us playing together and get us what we need.”

Future players are already showing their trust in Anderson. One of Missouri’s top recruits, the recently named Mr. Basketball in Georgia, Jakeenan Grant, confirmed Wednesday he still wants to play for the Tigers.

The switch from Division I to Division II isn’t a concern for Anderson, either.

“When I went (to Central Missouri) I learned something quickly, and that is Division II basketball — I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re Missouri, Kentucky or Florida — but Division II basketball, in many cases, is really Division I,” Anderson said. “You’re just playing Division II.”

Yes, Anderson doesn’t have experience as a head coach at the Division I level like some folks were looking for. Do you really think he didn’t have opportunities? I’ll give you a hint: he did.

But like Anderson said, “As many of you know, UCM is a better job than a lot of Division I programs in the country.”

Becoming the head basketball coach is Anderson’s dream job. It’s been something he’s worked toward since he first started his career under Stewart. And it’s not just going to be a pit stop. He’s going to be a Tiger as long as possible.

That’s what makes him the best man for the job. I’m not the only one that thinks so.

“I think Mizzou nailed it this time,” Thompson said. “I think it’s going to pay off. I think you’ll see a larger fan base. He’s a guy that people will find it easy to root for. More importantly, I think he’ll put a team out there that will be easy to root for.”

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