It was early May, maybe a week after Kim Anderson was hired for his dream job as the Missouri men’s basketball coach and fewer than six weeks after he led Central Missouri to the 2014 NCAA Division II men’s basketball championship.
Anderson scrolled through his contacts and phoned William Jewell coach, Larry Holley, “We’d love to have you come play an exhibition game. It’s the least I could do since your best player transferred to Central Missouri and we won a national championship.”
Dillon Deck averaged 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds for William Jewell in 2012-13, earning first-team All-Great Lakes Valley Conference honors.
Before the 2013-14 season, Deck, a 6-foot-9 Smithville graduate, transferred to Central Missouri, where he led the Mules in scoring (13.8) and finished second in rebounds (5.6) during a championship season that probably landed Anderson the Tigers’ gig.
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“When I saw (Anderson) at the Final Four in Dallas last spring, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to say to him,” Holley said. “I had been texting him and Dillon throughout, congratulating them on their run.”
Still, bumping into each other at AT&T Stadium had the potential to be awkward, at least until Anderson broke the ice by approaching Holley and asking, “So, do you want a watch or a ring?”
Less than a month later, Anderson was hired as Frank Haith’s replacement at Missouri.
“I was going to text him and say, ‘Coach, forget the watch, forget the ring, give the Cardinals an exhibition game,’ but I never sent the text,” Holley said. “Maybe a week later, he called and offered us the opportunity to come down and play.”
That’s how it came to be that the Kim Anderson era at Missouri begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Holley’s Cardinals at the Hearnes Center.
“I’m excited,” Anderson said. “Obviously, it’s my first time being a head coach in a game situation, but I think it will be really good for our guys to play someone else. I think we’ll learn where we’re at and where we need to go.”
Playing at the Hearnes Center, where Anderson starred for Norm Stewart’s Tigers nearly four decades ago, only adds to the moment. Mizzou Arena isn’t available as a new scoreboard is being installed.
“Obviously, to play the game in here is really special, because of the history of this building and the tradition of this program within this building,” Anderson said. “I don’t how it will be (emotionally), but I’ll probably be worried about winning the game.”
Anderson and Holley — who is 757-367 in 35 seasons with the Cardinals and 855-502 overall, which ranks third among active Division II coaches in victories — have never squared off in a game.
The two have scrimmaged one another, and Anderson’s sons used to attend Holley’s camps, where Anderson also has been a featured speaker.
“He’s a great ambassador for basketball in the state and a great coach, who’s won a ton of games,” Anderson said. “I’m honored that he decided to come, because he’s a guy that I’ve respected over the years and we’ve been good friends. I hope it’s good for both of us.”
Holley has his own MU ties. He graduated from Jewell in 1967 before pursuing a master’s in physical education at Missouri.
“It was Norm Stewart’s first year at Missouri, so I went to a lot of practices,” Holley said. “I was not on his staff, but I went to a lot of practices and took a lot of notes.”
Holley said the last time William Jewell played MU was 1930, when the Tigers dedicated the new Brown Gymnasium in Liberty.
“We’re just going into it hoping to play well,” Holley said. “It’s the earliest I’ve ever played an exhibition or a game. … I just hope we’re able to relax and play to our potential and hopefully not get shut out.”
William Jewell moved from the NAIA to NCAA Division II before the 2011-12 season. Admission and parking are free for the game.