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Missouri basketball and Kim Anderson's answers to criticism

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Friend of the site and Rock M Radio guest Carrington Harrison had a chance to interview Coach Anderson a few weeks ago, and he asked me for some input prior to the interview. I told him the things I thought most fans wanted to know from Coach and we figured out some ways to ask that nicely. It looks like he was able to fit much of it in despite only having about 20 minutes to cover everything.

If you're in the KC area and regularly listen to 610 the Drive with Danny Parkins and Cdot Harrison, you may have heard this already. If not, have a listen.

If you don't want to listen, I'll break down some of what was said, and my reactions to it...

Kim Anderson on learning on the job:

The thing about this job, being the head coach at the University of Missouri is an unbelievable honor and an unbelievable opportunity. Along with that comes an unbelievable responsibility. There's a responsibility for not only your players, but to the alumni and the fans and the media. So you've got that responsibility. Well here's something I learned, probably moreso than anything. I can't be responsible to every person. I can't go to every speaking engagement that people ask me to go. I went to 75 speaking engagements last year from May 1st to about October. I just can't do it.

...

My first responsibility is to the University of Missouri and the basketball program and taking care of the players and being around them. You have to learn how to prioritize your time. Now I don't think it was inexperience, and I don't think it had a whole lot to do with coaching. I know some people would say "What is he doing?" or "Why is this team like this?" I think it has more to do with production and that's why we are doing a lot more individual skill stuff, and helping guys get better individually so we can then incorporate that as a team.

...

You have to do a lot of self evaluation and you have to look at all phases of the program, and that's what we've done. We looked at the basketball part of the program. What do we need to do on the floor and in the weight room and with conditioning. When you don't have a good year I think you even evaluate things more. So I've had discussions with every person that touches this program. Everything from facilities to budgeting to marketing to promotions to athletic training to equipment to media relations to every little thing that touches this program. When I came in here I kind of took a step back and evaluated things for the year. I evaluated how do we do this, how do we do this. And now I have a much better idea of how we need to do this and hopefully we can put that plan in place and be successful in all phases of our program and most importantly down on the floor and in the classroom.

I think there are fair criticisms and unfair criticisms of Kim Anderson at this point. A fair criticism was whether not he had the experience upfront with Division 1 basketball to take such a high level job. It's fair because if you take everything that he parsed in this quote, he made several mistakes in the early going after taking the job, and each of those mistakes took him away from where he needed to be. I lay part of this blame on the Athletic Department because there was nobody that stopped Kim from saying yes to all of these requests. In fact, it's probably the case that they felt it was good to "excite" Mizzou fans by putting Anderson out in front of so many people. Then what transpired was a young and inexperienced team that struggled to find the right chemistry were too often left without the rudder to steer the ship. So Anderson learning the lesson of saying no was something that came with experience of the demands of a big time Division 1 job.

I disagree however that it wasn't inexperience. Kim Anderson had not been on a Division One coaching bench in a long time. The job has changed a lot since Norm was on the sidelines at the Hearnes Center. The demands and expectations have changed even more. He let himself get overwhelmed by it, and that was inexperience. I do think that Coach Anderson is a smart and resourceful guy, and I know he's a good basketball coach. The first two of those should help him adapt the job and parlay that into success at this level. But learning to say no is a big part of budgeting your time to make sure you are where you need to be, when you need to be there.

On Building Team Chemistry:

The challenging thing with these guys was that I didn't recruit these guys for the most part. I mean, I did a little bit at the end when i got here but I didn't have a built in relationship with their family or with them that I do with these new guys. So 2 or 3 of them weren't recruited by Kim Anderson. They were recruited by another coach. So that's always tough. But I think our relationship is good.

...

We tried to [build more chemistry], we've tried to create more team activities, more things that we do together. We spent a couple hours at the Columbia Hospital with the kids that aren't as fortunate as we are. I don't know if you've ever seen Jakeenan Gant do syringe painting? But it's quite a sight. I think there's something on YouTube [video below] about Jakeenan, with some kids and Cullen VanLeer, and our whole team was there. These kids aren't as lucky as we are, so it was kind of neat to do that. And we've done stuff like that before but I think that building relationships are ongoing. And it's going to be in everything that we do. That's what we continue to try to do.

This sort of piggy-backs on the last comment. Coach Anderson saying no to speaking engagements, and being around the players more will help him develop the necessary relationship with everyone on the team. The best teams stand up for their coach, and I think too often this team strayed away from him. Evidence is the number of broken rules that led to suspensions. That's not saying that they won't learn and grow from their decisions, but it's just part of having that sort of season. More players being responsible for each other should help alleviate those kinds of decisions in the future. Players have to feel responsible for each other.

I said at the time when Wes Clark got hurt that this was going to be a tough lesson to learn for guys like Tramaine Isabell, Namon Wright and Montaque Gill-Caesar, all of whom where suspended for that game. They had to watch as their already shorthanded team tried to play down another player. I felt that those three really stepped up and played well the rest of the season, but they needed to understand how each individuals decision will effect the entire team.

On player buy in:

I really didn't feel like [the players] weren't [on the same page] last year. I think given the difficult run that we had there at the beginning of the SEC where we lost a bunch of games in a row, I think guys kind of lost confidence. As a coach you come to practice every day and it doesn't matter if you won 13 games in a row or lost 13 games in a row you're still trying to teach, and you're still trying to say: "Hey guys, if we do this, this, this and this we'll have a chance to win the game." I think the difficult thing was that they became a much better practice team during the year, and they would do this this, this, and this and come up short. That was frustrating for them, but I never really felt like they hadn't bought in, I just think that they weren't successful. When that happens you can't just say well we're going to change everything and start over. You have to keep working on what you believe in and tweak things, and then in the offseason you get in and have a chance to turn things around.

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When you don't win it's always tough. You get frustrated and lose confidence, but I don't really talk it about it much. I don't belabor it, I try to learn from it and build on it. Kids are smart, they understand what they have to do and how they have to get better. So that's what we're working for. And it's not going to happen today it's going to take a while. So hopefully we can have a great summer and then take that into the fall.

He's right to some extent. Even watching the games last year I never felt like the effort level wasn't there. What did happen was a lack of understanding about the next move. On defense they often looked great for about 15-20 seconds, then somebody missed an assignment and it all went to hell. On offense they moved the ball, but there was a big whole in the offense where a playmaker was missing, especially once Wes Clark went down with the injury. Mizzou had nobody who could break down a defense. Johnathan Williams III was a guy you could throw the ball to and he could occasionally make something happen, but he simply wasn't skilled enough to be option number one. The roster as it's made up right now has more opportunities to have reliable scoring, particularly if Montaque Gill-Caesare comes back healthy and ready to play. Coach is right, players are smart. For the most part, they know what they need to do. They've bought into that, the coaches just need to take them the rest of the way.

On this upcoming season:

I think we need to get better. We need to improve. When I took the job we talked about how we wanted to be efficient offensively. But we were inefficient offensively. So from that standpoint we didn't do a good job. We have to be better offensively, we have to be able to score at a higher rate. But on an overall evaluation, we have to continue to improve. I can't put a number on [the amount of wins this upcoming season], I'm not going to be a number on it. The schedule is going to be extremely difficult. That's fine, that makes us a better team. But I think improvement is going to be important. Understanding we are going to be young, we do have 9 freshmen and sophomores. So there is a learning curve and there's going to be some mistakes. I'm as excited today as I was a year ago, and probably a little bit smarter than I was a year ago.

It's smart to be vague at this point, after the disaster that was last season. Despite the positivity tour that's happening around the basketball program right now, there simply isn't a lot of reason to think that Missouri will be a vastly improved team from a year ago. There is talent on the roster, but we haven't seen the talent materialize into they type of team that can win games on a consistent basis. They haven't proven they can score when needed, they haven't proven they can get a stop when needed, and those two things are pretty important when it comes to playing basketball. That's not to say that they can't figure it out, but it's easy to see why anyone might be skeptical. The truth is that just with experience and growth this team should be able to get close to .500. If they hit that mark that means they'll be on the right path.

Coach Anderson also had some thoughts on recruiting, and I wanted to talk about that. However there was more material from Dave Matter and Steve Walentik that I think needed to be addressed. And since it all pertains to recruiting, I thought I'd use that as a separate piece. I'll be posting that tomorrow.