One day, perhaps even as soon as next season, Missouri associate head coach Tim Fuller probably will have a program of his own.
Fuller, who is in his third season as an assistant on Frank Haith’s staff, got a taste of what that will be like during the Tigers’ first five games.
He took over the day-to-day operations and guided Missouri to a 5-0 record during Haith’s five-game NCAA suspension.
“He’s going to do a good job whenever he does get a head coaching job,” junior point guard Jordan Clarkson said. “… He really challenged us every game just like he challenged us when we were sitting out (as transfers). He really pushed us, man.”
Haith, who wasn’t permitted to have contact with his players or staff from Nov. 8-25, was pleased with how his assistant coaches managed his absence.
“The staff did a great job,” Haith said. “That’s a hard thing to do. Obviously, as a staff, we see some things that we’ve got to get a little bit better at, and we will. Under the circumstances, I thought they did a great, great job.”
It was particularly meaningful for Fuller, who is the only coach on Haith’s staff without prior head coaching experience.
Dave Leitao, who is in his second season at Missouri, served as head coach at Northeastern (1994-96), DePaul (2002-05) and Virginia (2005-08) before joining Haith. He also served as the coach for Maine in NBA Developmental League’s in 2011-12.
Meanwhile, Mark Phelps joined Haith’s staff this season after serving as head coach at Drake from 2008-13.
Even though it was only a five-game run, it was an eye-opening experience for Fuller.
“What I saw was just how challenging coach Haith’s job really is,” Fuller said. “What I can do as an assistant was really shown to me over this period of time.”
He knows the lessons learned during the last few weeks will continue to pay off down the road.
“I’m still in a period of self-discovery and that’s something that will probably be unveiled to me as I get time to reflect,” Fuller said.
Of course, the lessons learned weren’t limited to coaching. Those first five games also showed Missouri’s staff a lot about what it has in this team.
“What I learned about the team was that we have some pretty talented guards and that we also have to continue to develop our post players,” Fuller said. “That’s an area I’m going to continue to focus on.”
Haith watched the team develop from afar and is encouraged as he resumes day-to-day duties.
“We’ve got to improve in a lot of areas, but it’s early and we can do it,” Haith said. “We will do it.. I can give you one basketball thing we’ve got to do better, we’ve got to move the ball better.”
Haith added that, while the Tigers’ rebounding and defensive numbers are pretty good, those also are areas where the team can make strides.
“I think this team can be as good a rebounding team as last year, but we’re nowhere near that right now,” Haith said. “We’re not rebounding the ball to the level I think we should rebound the ball.”