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Tim Fuller on identity in college basketball

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We're continuing to explore some of the interview with former Missouri Coach Tim Fuller. Coach Fuller and I talked for two hours, and not all of the context of the interview was the same. So we decided to dice the interview up a bit and present some of his thoughts on other topics with a couple "Outtakes" posts.

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Towards the end of the interview I wanted to know if Coach Fuller thought Mizzou basketball was in a place where they could recover from the bottoming out of a 9-23 season. He had spoken already about how he felt very positive of the talent that was in place, saying that the freshmen class was on that could help build the foundation of the program. But was that enough?


Where is the program right now? Is it trending up?

What I feel like you have to do as a college program is form an identity. And you have to have a will to state who you are. With Frank Haith, we were a high powered offense, we were going to run a spread ball-screen offense and space you out with guys who could score. We could penetrate and kick, and we had guys who could make shots. That’s what we were.

At Louisville, what were we? We were going to come at you defensively, we were going to make every possession intense for you, we were going to be active with our hands, we were going to monitor deflections, and we were going to try to disrupt everything you did offensively.

This team that we had this year: what was our identity?

I think we were a decent team in the half court defensively. We could take away the initial offense. The one thing I think we struggled with was educating our players on how to play. They knew how to guard an action. But after that action broke down and teams just started hooping, we lost the feel for the ways we were supposed to rotate, the things we were supposed to do, and how we were supposed to [play] defense naturally.

Offensively, we were a disaster. It was in part because we had no rhythm in the offensive attack. And for the first time, we had guys who were not accustomed to what was expected of them. Johnathan Williams III was never counted on to be the primary offensive threat. Ryan Rosburg was never counted on to be a primary offensive threat. It was always, "Okay, you guys will get the drop offs, you’ll get your dunks, you’ll get your layups, and you step up and knock down an occasional 3 and get to the free throw line. That’s how you’ll be a consistent double-figure scorer. Other than that, rebound the ball and play good defense."

I think Coach Anderson is going to make the necessary adjustments, but what worked in the past isn’t necessarily going to work with what we had. I went over and watched this team at Lincoln, when Central Missouri played Lincoln. They had this 6’6 to 6’7 stud in the post who they could throw the ball to. He had his back to the basket.

You can run the same stuff, but if you don’t have the same personnel, it ain’t going to work.

We didn’t have that at Missouri. You can run the same stuff, but if you don’t have the same personnel, it ain’t going to work. So I think that was a part of it, and then our guys not knowing how hard they had to work in order to be good players. I’m not talking about running a system. I’m talking about, "Okay, I came off this stagger now, I’ve got the ball in my hands. But this dude isn’t letting me score. He’s driving me right into Willie Cauley-Stein. I need to have a two-dribble step-back to my game. Uh-oh, I haven't worked on a two-dribble step-back. I don’t have that. So what am I going to do now?"

The only player that we had perimeter wise that had any type of can-go-get-his-own-shot was Wes Clark. That stuff has to be worked on -- daily -- if you’re going to be a good basketball team. Because every player in our league has that. Our league is the most athletic league in the country. Not the most skilled. Not the most powerful. But it is the most athletic league in the country. And that’s why teams like Ole Miss, Texas A&M, obviously Kentucky, they can get places because of their athleticism.

We recruited the athletes, we have athletes. But their skill has to be refined. And that’s the area where we didn’t do the job that we needed to do as assistant coaches. I don’t really feel like that’s the head coach’s job. I think it’s our job to get them on the court, ready to be players, and it’s for him to call the plays and do the things he needs to do. And I feel like we as assistants let Coach Anderson down at that level. I take a huge chunk of responsibility for that.

I don’t know what Mizzou basketball is going to hang their hat on. If you’re saying we’re going to be THIS … well, what is that? Until that’s discovered, until that outline and philosophy come to the forefront, it’s going to be more of the same. They have got to discover an identity.

Do you think the players are going to formulate that or is that from the coaching staff?

No, that’s on the coaching staff from the top down. The players, there are too many individuals, and you have too many different agendas for them to come up with any kind of identity. Your identity is what you do every single day. Your identity is what you wake up to, what you build, what you bring. If you had a t-shirt … it says Mizzou Basketball on the front. It’s what you put on the back. That’s your identity.

If you had a t-shirt … it says Mizzou Basketball on the front. It’s what you put on the back. That’s your identity.

So what is that thing going to be? If you see all the teams that are winning now, what is it? You know what those teams are going to do. You know Louisville is going to bring pressure and defense. You know from Kentucky its their athleticism and shot blocking. You know Michigan State is just tough and hard-nosed. They’ll grind you out and guard you each possession. You know Wisconsin is going to run a precision spread-flex offense, and they’re going to pound the ball inside and take transition opportunities if they present themselves. You know that. I don’t know what Mizzou’s identity is.

So when that gets figured out, then you have to have enough of a relationship with the players to get them to buy in. So that’s the second part: the relationship to buy in. So there’s a wide gap for things to be worked on this year that will determine whether or not the talent can be maximized. Because they’re still going to be young. You’re still going to have a bunch of sophomores, and with the freshmen VanLeer, Phillips, and Puryear, who are going to make some contributions? They’re still going to be young.