Missouri's Frank Haith has received a bittersweet honor. Three days after the Tigers flopped in the NCAA tournament, he was chosen national coach of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
The first-year coach said Monday it has been tough moving past the upset loss to No. 15 seed Norfolk State. Missouri won 30 games, won the Big 12 tournament and was a No. 2 seed in the West, and Haith hoped that disappointment lingering from the school's abrupt exit wouldn't totally overshadow the team's accomplishments.
"It was a hard weekend, there's no doubt about it," Haith said. "When you sit back and really look at big picture, you have to say this team had a heck of a year. You can't disregard the 34 games prior.
"Hats off to Norfolk State, they played a whale of a game. They banked 3's in, they made contested shots, they played incredible."
Haith said his award was a team honor. Before the NCAA stunner, he said Missouri exceeded his expectations.
Known for putting teams away with lengthy runs during the regular season, Missouri treaded water in the finale. Haith said the team was healthy enough, but just didn't execute, and ran into a team that could do no wrong.
Missouri appeared dangerous coming off its Big 12 tourney championship.
"They had six points off of air balls - stickbacks - where they shot an air ball, made a layup and got fouled," Haith said. "I mean, how many times does that happen? It's pretty crazy."
Entering its first season in the SEC, Missouri must replace senior starters Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe, plus backup center Steve Moore. Haith said his tight seven-man rotation worked because of teamwork.
"They had great chemistry, they trusted each other," Haith said. "The intangibles are why they won. And we've got to make sure next year's team can take that with them."
Haith anticipates more depth than this season's seven-man rotation. Forward Laurence Bowers returns from a knee injury that sidelined him all of last season, after averaging 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in 2010-11, and guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon also are back.
Dixon was one of the nation's top sixth men and got starter minutes.
Four transfers will be eligible, 6-3 guard Keion Bell from Pepperdine, 6-4 guard Jabari Brown from Oregon, 6-5 guard Earnest Ross from Auburn and 6-9 forward Danny Feldman (Helias High School) from Columbia. Ryan Rosburg, a 6-10 center from Marquette High School in suburban St. Louis, has committed.
"I think when you're deeper, you can always have great practices in terms of challenging guys to do more," he said. "Sometimes, it is what it is when you only have seven guys. But you're fortunate to have a senior-laden team that wants to do right."
Haith said he has not been updated on the NCAA investigation at Miami, his former team, which is targeted mostly at football but could include the basketball program.
"Obviously, I've got a muzzle in terms of what I can say, but I haven't been able to say anything or know anything, to be honest with you," Haith said. "When you see kids getting ineligible, just so you know, it doesn't always mean that the coach is involved.
"So it can be a lot of different things. And they don't voice whatever those things are. The speculation could be totally up to you all."