Missouri men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson will get at least one more season to try to turn around the moribund program despite a 19-44 record in his first two seasons.
The Tigers announced Anderson’s return Wednesday in a statement from athletic director Mack Rhoades, who met with Anderson earlier in the week “to reaffirm my vision for the program and share with him my expectations for next year.”
Anderson “came into a very challenging situation two years ago, and he is passionate about returning his alma mater to greatness,” Rhoades said in the statement from Mizzou athletics. “… As we turn our attention to next season, we remain fully committed to providing our coaches and student-athletes with the resources and support they need to win at the highest level. I look forward to working with Coach Anderson to reestablish the proud and winning tradition of Mizzou Basketball.”
There were struggles from the outset.
Missouri was embarking on a 19-month joint investigation with the NCAA into rules violations before Anderson was hired, something that wasn’t disclosed during the interview process.
Obviously, most of the violations occurred before Anderson’s arrival, but it’s become his mess to navigate.
“Mack and I have met several times in recent weeks to discuss the future of the program and the direction we need to go,” Anderson said in a statement from Mizzou athletics. “Mack understands the challenges we’ve faced and has been very supportive. He indicated to me from the very beginning that we’d review the year in detail once the season was complete. We started that process on Monday and will continue to work through it in the weeks ahead.”
The Tigers announced a self-imposed one-year postseason ban, effective this season, on Jan. 13 along with a scholarship reduction in 2015-2016 and another in either 2016-2017 or 2017-2018, among other penalties.
The final NCAA report, including whether those sanctions will be accepted or additional penalties are required, will be announced later this spring.
That timing may have benefited Anderson, whose 19-44 record includes a 6-30 mark in Southeastern Conference play and consecutive last-place conference finishes.
“The University of Missouri Men’s Basketball program holds a special place in my heart and has played such a huge part in my life,” Anderson said. “Making this program great has been our goal since taking the job and obviously we’ve met a lot of adversity these first two seasons. No one is more disappointed than me, but no one is more motivated to get this program competing at a high level again.”
With the NCAA investigation still unsettled and the possibility of looming APR issues, which could trigger another postseason ban as soon as next season, the Missouri post may not be an attractive job right now.
Rather than saddle an incoming coach with the sad-sack situation, Anderson, whose .302 winning percentage is the lowest of any full-time head coach in Mizzou history, will get another crack at righting the Tigers’ ship.
“This men’s basketball season was a difficult one for our student-athletes, our coaches and for our fans, who continue to support Mizzou through challenging times,” Rhoades said. “No one is satisfied with the number of wins our team has earned in the past two seasons. However, I remain resolute in my belief Mizzou can and should be a nationally relevant basketball program which competes for SEC and NCAA Championships.”
Freshman forward Kevin Puryear and freshman guard Terrence Phillips both expressed high confidence that Anderson would return during a news conference before Missouri’s season finale Saturday against Florida.
“Coach Anderson has been great to all of us and, personally, I love having him as my coach,” said Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate who was chosen to the SEC All-Freshman Team after he led the Tigers in scoring at 11.5 points per game. “He definitely knows the game, and I’m really excited for the journey here. Yes, I’m confident that he’ll be back.”
Phillips, who led Mizzou with 3.5 assists per game, expressed similar affection for Anderson.
“I love coach Anderson,” he said. “I love our staff here. He does a great job game in and game out putting us in the right position, in the right frame of mind for the game.”
Still, there’s immense work that must be done. Youth has been the biggest excuse Missouri has used for its struggles under Anderson, but the freshman and sophomore classes now have logged a lot of minutes.
The Tigers will be expected to turn a corner in year three.
Player retention has been an issue under Anderson, who was brought in to help stabilize the program and act as a bridge to a more prosperous era of Missouri basketball.
Instead, the Tigers have had nine players decommit, transfer or be dismissed in Anderson’s 22 months on the job.
Mizzou wasn’t able to hang onto State Fair Community College guard Kevin Punter, who had committed under Haith but quickly decommitted after Anderson’s hire and wound up at Tennessee.
There also was significant roster attrition before Anderson — a 1979 Mizzou graduate and the 1977 Big Eight player of the year under his mentor, Norm Stewart — coached his first game at his alma mater.
Guard Shane Rector opted to transfer in May, forward Torren Jones was dismissed in August and forward Cam Biedscheid, a midseason transfer from Notre Dame in Haith’s final season, left the program in September before ever suiting up for Missouri.
The Tigers went 9-23 in Anderson’s first season, setting a record for the most losses in a season in program history and enduring a program-record 13-game losing streak along the way.
After the season, Mizzou had three more players transfer — including the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Johnathan Williams III, and its top freshman scorer, Montaque Gill-Caesar.
Reserve forward Deuce Bello also left the program as a graduate-student transfer in August.
During Anderson’s second season, the Tigers finished 10-21, but the roster upheaval continued. Junior guard Wes Clark was dismissed in January, and sophomore forward D’Angelo Allen requested a transfer in February.
Discipline also has been an issue.
Only two of 10 scholarship players on Anderson’s 2014-2015 team — forwards Ryan Rosburg and Keanau Post — weren’t suspended for at least part of a game, and Anderson handed down five more suspensions in 2015-2016 plus the dismissal of Clark.
If there’s a silver lining, Missouri’s freshman class, which is in some ways Anderson’s first true recruiting class, showed promise on the court and performed well in the classroom and community.
Puryear and Phillips headline the freshman group, which also includes guards K.J. Walton and Cullen VanLeer. That quartet showed signs it’s a decent foundation for a rebuilding effort.
The addition of Texas transfer Jordan Barnett, who will be eligible midseason next year, should help next year, and there was incremental development by sophomores Tramaine Isabell, Namon Wright and Jakeenan Gant.
Missouri has some size coming next year with freshmen Willie Jackson, Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith, but only time will tell if next season’s roster is good enough to get Anderson off the hot seat.
Staff changes might be on the horizon, if Mizzou deems that an area where Anderson can improve in an effort to propel the program forward.
The Tigers also might examine scheduling procedures and its recruiting process among other changes deemed necessary.
“Consistent with our normal end-of-year processes, in the coming days Coach Anderson and I will review the season in greater depth and discuss any suggested changes that could benefit the program moving forward,” Rhoades said.