If you want to know the truth, 6-year-old Rhyan Loos doesn’t care so much about basketball.
What she likes best about Mizzou Arena is the nachos and brownies, for instance. And she certainly had a better time at the fashion show in her name — #RallyForRhyan, to raise funds for pediatric cancer research — earlier Saturday at the Holiday Inn Executive Center than she did at the Missouri-Arkansas game.
For that matter, she’s not comfortable with attention in general and wasn’t feeling so well in between the cancer treatments that she will resume Tuesday in New York.
“I’m proud of her for coming here and putting on a brave face,” said her father, Missouri assistant coach Brad Loos.
With that came a tribute from the team that has lived this with the Loos family, a team that had known only its own relative gloom for nearly two months before an 83-78 victory over the Razorbacks snapped a 13-game overall losing streak, a 14-game Southeastern Conference drought and a sense of utter futility hovering over the program.
Afterward, a beaming Brad Loos noted that the Tigers are 2-0 now in games designated as fund-raisers in his daughter’s name and declared that “every game from now on is (the) #RallyForRyan game.” This game raised more than $54,000.
The brave and adorable girl helped provide a sweet reprieve for all around the program facing a steady drumbeat of speculation that it’s a foregone conclusion head coach Kim Anderson will lose his job at season’s end.
Whatever is to come, though, Anderson has stayed resolute and fixated on the moments at hand and making the team better and giving all it has to the finish line.
This is how you honor your work and demonstrate a lifelong example of integrity for your players, no matter how miserably things have gone and no matter how others might forecast your future.
It’s a little bit like that Rudyard Kipling poem, “If” — keeping your head “when all about you are losing theirs.”
So here his team was, less than 48 hours after a 39-point humiliation at Florida, and playing in such a desperate way that opposing coach Mike Anderson would note the extra energy it found when it mattered most — like “they were playing for something.”
All of this moved Kim Anderson deeply afterward, from the broad smile he flashed at game’s end for the first time since Dec. 6 to the sudden hitch in his voice during his postgame news conference as he spoke about a team that hasn’t surrendered in any way.
“They’ve come to work every day, every day,” he said, choking up some and adding, “I really can’t ask for anything else.”
No one hurts over this situation more than Anderson, and even if you want a change no one should be taking gratuitous shots at a true gentleman who got the apparent dream job at his alma mater only for it to be unmasked as a nightmare.
Among other issues, Anderson inherited a depleted roster, an academic progress Rubik’s Cube that hamstrung management of that roster and looming NCAA trouble that he wasn’t told of until after he’d accepted the job.
It was a rotten way to have to start, enough so that even into Anderson’s third season new athletic director Jim Sterk suggested this should be viewed as his first.
Just the same, Missouri is 1-9 in the SEC and has lost home games to North Carolina Central and Eastern Illinois and Lipscomb and had fans stay away in droves.
Barring a tremendous finish, Anderson would seem likely to be done at season’s end.
All of that is an afterthought to him now, though, with the precious present his only focus.
In a corridor later, Anderson appeared to tear up as he spoke about the bigger picture at MU, where he is 25-60 since being hired after guiding Central Missouri to the Division II national championship.
“I’m not used to this, and so I feel bad,” he said, a tremor in his voice. “Every day. Every minute of every day.
“But I don’t let (the players) see me feel bad. Just keep coming to work and doing your job and trying to make them better.”
Indeed, there was demonstrable growth in this moment in a team that rebounded from a bruising by playing “mad,” as guard K.J. Walton put it, and overcame its habit of buckling when the other team makes a run — in this case fending off Arkansas’ rally from 15 down to cut the lead to 66-65.
MU may or may not win a few more games now, but at least Anderson knows there is “something in the tank” to try to keep his team going and cherishing each opportunity as its own distinct event.
On this night, though, staying in the moment at last was something to savor and hold on to instead of another one to forget.
“It’s good for all of us,” Anderson said. “It’s good for me.”
And no matter what happens from here, they all have the perspective provided by Rhyan Loos — one that has lent them strength and inspiration not just for a few games but beyond the court, too.