COLUMBIA — Mike Anderson says he does not know what kind of reaction hell get Tuesday night when he returns to Mizzou Arena for the first time since he bolted for Arkansas in March 2011.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But by the sound of it, Anderson is ready for just about anything when his Razorbacks take on Missouri. Including the worst.
Im sure the people that know me and my staff and the things that we stand for can appreciate what we did, said Anderson, who coached the Tigers to three NCAA Tournaments from 2006-11. At the same time, you may have some people that may not agree with that and they are the most vocal ones.
You will have some probably the passionate ones about the fact that I am not there anymore you may hear some boo birds. I just dont know.
Some of that will clearly have to do with the way Anderson left Missouri, with no news conference and no explanation. Though a return to Arkansas certainly made sense he spent 17 years there as an assistant under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas Anderson continues to insist the decision to leave Missouri, where he won the Big 12 tournament title and led the Tigers to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2009, was not easy.
It was tough, it was grueling, it was a lot of soul searching, a lot of praying, a lot of consulting, Anderson said. Its one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make because I was really close with our kids and still am close to our players there. We had the program in the best shape its been in many, many years. Not just from a basketball standpoint but I think all aspects recruiting, the kids graduating. The fans were excited about our style of basketball.
Anderson, who went 111-57 at MU, said Frank Haith has done an outstanding job in continuing what he started last season, when Haith went 30-5 with a talented but thin senior-laden group led by Marcus Denmon and Kim English.
That was a team that probably could have contended for a Final Four, Anderson said. I really thought that. It was probably the perfect storm it was in great shape. Most guys dont inherit a team like that. And its not necessarily just the basketball part of it. They inherited some good kids.
But Haith said he and his staff had work to do get last seasons team to perform to the level it did. Missouri lost five of its last six games in Andersons final season, when the Tigers finished 23-11.
When we got the job, we had a team that was and I dont know how to describe it I dont want to say the wrong word because I know you guys are waiting for that that just needed a lot of work, Haith said. I needed to get to know them. I think we had personalities on that team last year that were very strong. And we had good players, but I dont know if we were a good team when we got the job.
Haith also said his staff had to hit the recruiting trail when he took over for Anderson. Missouri did not have a single true freshman on the roster last season.
We had to balance our classes out, it was kind of senior-heavy, but I think weve done a good job with that, said Haith, who currently has five transfers contributing to this seasons team. But theres no question that Mike, in his five years, did a really good job here.
While the questions surrounding Andersons legacy and the reception he will receive are front and center, Haith made it clear he has zero interest feeding that narrative.
MUs game against Arkansas is senior night, the last home game for Missouri seniors Laurence Bowers. Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell. The Tigers, 21-8 and 10-6 in the Southeastern Conference, can clinch a double bye in next weeks SEC tournament with a victory Tuesday against Arkansas and on Saturday at Tennessee.
Im not worried about any of the story lines, Haith said. I mean I respect it, I understand it, but Im not going to be involved or worry about any of that stuff. Im worried about my team getting ready, going out to compete in a conference game tomorrow night in March.
Theres also that not-so-small matter of avenging a crushing 73-71 road loss to the Razorbacks on Feb. 16, a game in which Bowers and junior guard Phil Pressey the only remaining players from the Anderson era struggled.
Missouri declined to make either player available to reporters on Monday. But Haith is confident both will improve.
I think those guys will play the way theyre capable of playing, Haith said. Both those guys didnt play to their potential up there, but we still had a chance to win the game and hopefully well get a complete performance (Tuesday) from all our guys.
Anderson, who spoke highly of Bowers and Pressey on Monday, expects nothing less. And while Anderson says hes not sure what kind of reaction he can expect from the crowd, his players seem to have an idea.
Theyre going to be upset with Coach Anderson, Arkansas junior guard Kikko Haydar said. But we play the game.
Haydar, Anderson surely knows, is right about the latter. And if hes correct about the former? Well, hell just deal with it.
Thats just the nature of what we do, Anderson said. Thats just how fans are.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.