COLUMBIA, Mo. - Kim Anderson's hiring as Missouri basketball coach was heralded as a commitment to tradition with a "true son" - Anderson played at Missouri in the '70s and was an assistant coach in the '90s - coming back to coach the Tigers.
Anderson returns to his old stomping grounds tonight when Missouri hosts William Jewell for an exhibition in the Hearnes Center. Tipoff at 7 p.m. and admission is free.
"Obviously, to play the game in here is really special because of the history of this building and the tradition of this program in this building," Anderson said. "I'll probably be worried about winning the game. That'll probably be the main focus, and that's what it should be, but I'm excited that we're playing here. I think it's a fitting tribute to the building and to everything else, just the opportunity to come in here and play and maybe share a little bit of history with some of these players."
All history aside, the game is being played in the Hearnes Center because the Mizzou Arena scoreboard is being replaced.
Still, the players have become familiar with Anderson's experience playing under Norm Stewart at Missouri.
"It's brought up all the time," junior Ryan Rosburg said. "Different things coach Stewart would say, that coach Stewart would make them do, all that different kind of stuff. ... I don't remember what exactly happened, but coach Anderson said something like that in practice like, "If you would've done that with coach Stewart, you're running up there and touching (section) C12.'"
Sophomore Wes Clark added: Anderson "explained to us about how Norm Stewart and him, they came in here, and they made some big things happen. So we're looking to cherish this game."
Stewart recently met with the team.
"You talk to him about working hard," Anderson said. "You talk to him about the opportunity that they have as basketball players at the University of Missouri. Pretty much the same thing he talked to me about in 1973 or '74. I think it was really good that he came by."
Anderson also mentioned Stewart called out a few players who needed to improve, though Anderson wouldn't name names.
"We'll see if they paid attention," Anderson said.
Anderson isn't the only one making a return this week. Johnathan Williams III, Missouri's highest returning scorer, returned to practice Sunday after suffering a slight meniscus tear about a month ago, and Baylor transfer Deuce Bello will be playing his first game since sitting out a year to gain eligibility and rehabilitate a shin injury.
Williams was limited to half-court work but expects to return to full-court drills Thursday. He said he dunked over a teammate in practice Sunday, but he will not play in today's scrimmage.
"It was pretty fun," Williams said of his return to practice. "My leg did all right. It didn't really hurt, but it got sore a little bit, but that's expected to happen. But besides that it was pretty good."
As for Bello, Anderson said he hasn't experienced any setbacks physically. Rather, the biggest developments for the redshirt junior are those pertaining to his role in the lineup.
"I'm trying to teach him how to play every position on the court except point guard and center, so 2, 3 and 4," Anderson said. think he's a guy without a position, but he's a guy who can make things happen. And when I say without a position, he can play multiple positions. So, we're trying to use his athletic ability, his offensive rebound ability, his slashing ability, and then continue to work him defensively."
Multiple players said they consider Bello the most athletic player on the team. Clark said he doesn't think he's ever seen a player that can jump as high as Bello, who won the team's dunk contest before its Black and Gold scrimmage.
"I can understand what he's going through right now, because being out for a week or two weeks is too much for me," Clark said. "So I understand that (missing) years can be crazy. I don't know how I would be able to handle that."
The team, which returns just four players from last season, is still in the process of finding its identity. Anderson said there are seven or eight players who can start.
Anderson recently brought the players on a bus trip to Moberly, where the Tigers stayed together in a hotel and practiced at Moberly High School during the weekend retreat in an attempt to reduce distractions.
"It was definitely a team-bonding thing," Bello said. "Everybody got to know each other, got to know Coach Anderson better, and we got better that weekend."
Even without probable starter Williams in the lineup, today's game could provide an early glimpse at the makeup of this squad full of fresh faces.
And, of course, the Tigers have to beat the Division II Cardinals - even if the result won't go on their records.
"If they beat you, then everybody is going to talk about that, so I mean every game is a real game right now," Hawaii transfer Keith Shamburger said. "We can't really look at it like a exhibition game. We've got to really look at it like going 1-0 right now. We lose, like I said, and it'll make news, and everybody will talk about it for a while, so I mean the best thing to do is go out there and just give our best effort."