On Friday, we published one of my favorite Rock M Nation pieces ever, a lengthy Sam Snelling feature centered around a Tim Fuller Q&A. Because Sam and Coach Fuller spoke for so long, we're planning on unrolling a series of posts in the coming days focusing on one-off topics like program identity, attendance, etc. But before we go down that road, I wanted to share some of my own thoughts about the piece and talk about what I felt were the most interesting parts.
1. No Miami assistants
As he went through the process I learned that Missouri told him he couldn’t bring his former staff with him, which gave me a little bit of concern because I knew he had been working with those guys for a long time, particularly Jorge Fernandez, who is a really good friend of mine.
We'd heard rumors about this, but I'm not sure we'd ever had confirmation that Frank Haith wasn't allowed to bring his own assistants. One could certainly wonder why Mike Alden thought it was worth it to hire Haith if his assistants were covered in Nevin Shapiro slime, and if there was at least a 0.1% percent chance that Haith was, too.
Alden reportedly got some level of assurance from the NCAA that Haith wasn't involved, but still, if you know that stuff is coming down the pike and might even indirectly stain Haith, you've got to really like Haith to decide to pursue him anyway. And while I was able to sort of understand the logic of hiring Haith -- his Miami results weren't fantastic, but they were well above average by Miami standards -- I can't say I understand liking him to that degree.
Of course, it sounds like Fuller might have been part of the Haith draw from the start:
I came into the kitchen, and his wife was on the phone with my now ex-wife, she was talking about how Frank had talked to Missouri during the interview process about Tim Fuller and how he would be able to hire a high level assistant coach.
In selling himself during the Missouri interview, Haith mentioned Fuller as an assistant possibility without mentioning it to Fuller first. That ... is one hell of an indirect guilt trip. That Fuller still agreed to come is one hell of a sign of loyalty to a friend/mentor.
2. Flip instigated Transferpalooza
Phil Pressey says, "Hey, once these six or seven seniors leave, I’m going to be left with Mike Dixon and Kadeem Green. Why would I stay here and play this year and jeopardize not having a good team to play with my junior and senior year? I could go somewhere and sit out and then have a good junior year at another place."
I am very much on record that the negative reaction to Haith bringing in transfers was pretty ridiculous, and that the problem was with the freshmen he recruited, not the transfers. The whole "the fanbase doesn't get to know them" thing is ridiculous, blind hindsight that ignores the impact transfers like Demarre Carroll, Julian Winfield, Byron Irvin, and others had on the program in the past. Haith certainly drew in tons of transfers, but until Deuce Bello, they mostly worked out somewhere between fine (Keion Bell), well (Alex Oriakhi, Earnest Ross), and insanely well (Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown).
As this nine-win season was wrapping up, PowerMizzou's Gabe Dearmond theorized that part of the reason Haith felt the need to reel in so many transfers was the negative reaction to his hire -- that he possibly felt like he couldn't survive any serious down season, and that he needed to do whatever he possibly could to maintain a pretty high level with no setbacks. This made perfect sense to me, and I adopted that line of thinking as my own, but apparently it wasn't particularly true. Phil Pressey's (completely justifiable) worries about the state of the roster post-2012 may have had the most direct impact on them pursuing so many players from other schools. I've been fond of saying that Mike Anderson left Frank Haith a cabinet stocked with high-end good that were about to expire. Apparently Flip was as worried about that as fans were, and I can't blame him for it ... especially when it resulted in Haith bringing in Oriakhi, Brown, Ross, etc.
3. Get mine
We had some inner turmoil on the bench during that game where we didn’t necessarily show Norfolk State the respect that we should have as a program. And guys kind of went out and said, "I’m gonna get mine." We weren’t the team that was sharing the ball, we weren’t the team that was committed to defending. Our guys, as a team, weren’t committed to boxing out and rebounding.
In an interview a couple of years ago (one that I cannot find), Ricardo Ratliffe admitted that the team was quite unfocused heading into the Norfolk State game and didn't give that game the attention it obviously deserved. So we kind of already knew that. But the "get mine" comment here was confusing to me. The offense started the game pretty slowly, but overall, offense simply wasn't a problem in this game. And to the extent that it was, Kim English's suddenly cold shooting (likely enhanced by the injury he suffered in the Big 12 Tournament) was the biggest drag.
The guys who shot more than English, a.k.a. the guys who were out to "get theirs" were Phil Pressey (6-9 FG, 4-5 3PT), Ricardo Ratliffe (7-10 FG), Marcus Denmon (5-12 FG, 4-11 3PT), and Michael Dixon (8-12 FG, 4-5 3PT). Denmon wasn't incredibly impressive, but he, Flip, and Dixon combined for 12-for-21 from 3-point range. They needed to be getting theirs because English (1-7 FG, 0-5 3PT) couldn't find his range that day.
That said, defense was the issue. NSU's True Shooting % was 64.3%, and the Eagles averaged 1.35 points per possession. In terms of expected rebounds, Mizzou was minus-6. NSU had the size to take advantage of Mizzou's biggest weakness, and Mizzou's own lack of attention on the inside made a huge difference. (And the game still basically came down to Mizzou playing perfect defense, forcing a late-in-the-shot-clock airball ... and having it still result in a 3-point play. Ugh. Let's move on.)
4. You know who
No one talks about the fact that we lost Mike Dixon in September or October, right? So a lot of the ups and downs was Phil Pressey playing 38 minutes a night, and not having a legitimate backup point guard because we didn’t recruit one. We had the sixth man of the year in the Big 12 the year before coming in and a preseason All-American as as our point guards.
Tim Fuller should have been posting on Rock M Nation in 2013! Can't even imagine how many times we referenced the "Mike Dixon-sized hole in the lineup." That people wanted to blame Flip for the late-game failures that season still irks me. Play him four fewer minutes per game (with a quality backup) and watch what happens to that team.
5. I don't think we talked about this enough
And we didn’t really talk about it publicly, but we had two kids whose parents were dealing with terminal illnesses. One was in the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the other was bedridden in his home in Oakland. We, literally, were just trying to keep those two young men from emotionally falling apart. And they’re giving their heart and soul to Missouri basketball and they’re on the verge of losing the most important male figures in their lives. It was a challenging moment for us all.
It's still incredible that Mizzou's two best players in 2013-14 were both dealing with this. That's crazy, and we didn't talk about it enough. But of course we didn't. We didn't see them fighting those battles -- we only saw them playing (and often losing) SEC games once or twice a week. That's where there will always be a disconnect between fans/writers and the team. That Brown and Clarkson played so well while dealing this was incredible, but that they ultimately ran out of steam was forgivable.
6. Mizzou politics
Well I remember in year one, when Frank was kind of going through the turmoil, there were rumblings that "Kim Anderson should be the coach, not Frank Haith." I remember certain fans were saying stuff like that, right?
I really hope Kim Anderson succeeds. He's a great guy and has a great story, and he's still got a chance to turn things around. Year 1 didn't fill me with confidence, obviously, but I've seen enough Year 0 situations on the college football side of things (where a new coach needs a year to get his new system and culture established and takes a lot of losses in the interim, then begins to thrive in year 2 or 3) to know that you can recover.
But 15 years of "We should be hiring Kim Anderson" rumbling wore me down, and my biggest reason for supporting the hire was simply that we wouldn't have to hear the rumbling anymore. One way or another, Kim Anderson would go from theory to reality. And the fact that Frank Haith and Tim Fuller had to hear about some Division II coach they'd never had a reason to know about, and that he should have been hired instead of them, is kind of ridiculous. Message board pining is one thing, but the actual head coach should probably never hear about that.
Every school has its own set of ridiculous politics and inner-working nonsense, and school heavyweights constantly pulling for Kim Anderson (and, for so long, Gary Barnett on the football side) is one of Mizzou's pet issues.
7. Sometimes you learn by taking lumps
A guy like Wes Clark had Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross doing all the heavy lifting. Mizzou had won, and naturally they thought "we’re going to win like we’ve won in the past." Well there’s no more Jordan, there’s no more Jabari, there’s no more Earnest. So if you’re going to win, it’s going to be on your shoulders. So you’ve got to make the right decisions, you've got to be in the weight room, you've got to be getting extra shots up, you've got to be doing all the stuff that they did, making all those little investments so you can make the withdrawal on game night.
One of my favorite stories about Mizzou's 2013 football turnaround is how the offensive line that was so bad for so much of 2012 sucked it up, started working out together, developed a bond, and became one of the nation's better lines just one year later. The combination of experience and the taste blood in your mouth can be powerful if you have the right makeup. We don't know that this five-man freshman class will become excellent in the coming seasons, but there's no question that they now know what it takes. We'll find out a few months from now how seriously they took the lessons they just learned.