Two months into it, Kim Anderson still marvels at this: He’s the head coach of the University of Missouri’s men’s basketball team.
This was the one thing he forever had wanted. It also was the one thing he had reconciled, or at least compartmentalized, that he’d never have.
The sudden realization of a lifelong dream that you’d actually surrendered would be profound in anyone’s life. It’s certainly so with Anderson, who turned 59 a few weeks after getting the job.
“‘Life-long,’” he said, considering the literalness of the term in this case and smiling as he sat in Mizzou Arena.
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With that has come a whirlwind tour of the state, from Cape Girardeau to Mendon, from St. Louis to Kansas City and too many outposts to count in-between … and so many that Anderson believes he may have shaken hands with all but a handful of people in Missouri.
All of which is a terrific springboard for Anderson, who got a standing ovation from the crowd of about 150 at the Tiger Club at the Westport Flea Market last week.
But Anderson knows all of this is attached to the fleeting grace period of a honeymoon in his first season after whisking Division II Central Missouri to the national title.
Somewhere down the road looms an expiration date.
“It’s a special feeling,” he said, “but I think it’s probably about time I get over the special feelings and get to work.”
In fact, Anderson scarcely has stopped working as he takes on what athletic director Mike Alden suggested was a “CEO” role at his alma mater, where the son of Sedalia starred on the court and later was an assistant coach.
He’s cobbled together his staff, re-engaged relationships around the state, recruited new players, re-recruited current players and re-wooed the signees of Frank Haith.
Yet nothing this summer has been more important than Anderson connecting with, and starting to put an imprint on, his players.
It’s a young, impressionable group teeming with newcomers and featuring only one player (junior Ryan Rosburg) who’s been at Mizzou more than a year.
That’s how he really starts building from the “ground up,” as Anderson put it, intending no slight to predecessor Frank Haith, who was 76-28 at MU but left a program in the flux of constant roster turnover.
So Anderson understands that in some ways it’s an entirely new world for players, including a number who hadn’t signed up to play for him.
“I walk in here … and they don’t know me, and I don’t know them,” he said.
To start to alleviate that, Anderson meets with the team for breakfast every morning at 8 — which means 7:45, Rosburg said, noting Anderson’s emphasis on “Tiger time” being 15 minutes early.
And then there’s the real torture.
“I don’t get to use my cell phone, and they don’t get to use their cell phone,” he said. “They don’t get to wear hats, I don’t get to wear a hat. Not that I wear a hat a lot.
“So for the 15-30 minutes, they’ve got to talk to each other, or they’ve got to talk to me.”
Then for two hours a week over the last few weeks, they have to listen to Anderson and his staff on the court.
A hint on what they’re hearing: Anderson estimates they’ve worked on offense for something like “two minutes.” Said Rosburg, “We have yet to learn, like, any offensive plays.”
That’s because the most fundamental message is that this all must and will start with an attitude and an atmosphere predicated on defense.
That’s what Anderson was getting at when he hollered at them recently to be more “mean and aggressive,” and tells them they’ll never hear a cross word from him if they mess up going hard, and exhorted them through yet … another … defensive drill.
“You can do it!” he yelled. “Nobody ever made you do it. I’m going to make you do it.”
To wit, Rosburg told of a 4-on-4 drill in which the ball is left in the lane and one team is supposed to do all it can to get to the ball; the other is supposed to do all it can to deny them the ball.
“They’re basically football drills,” Rosburg said. “There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and diving all over the place. It’s just that mentality of going as hard as you can at all times.”
This isn’t to say his notions are any better or worse than what Haith set out to do, Anderson stressed repeatedly (he said he’d be glad to have Haith’s record after three years).
But the emphasis is entirely different as he seeks to put together a program, not just a team.
Just as it took Anderson a long time to get here, he’s building for the long haul and is steeped in this notion: It’s about setting a tone of intensity that says, “This is who we are and how we play and what we stand for.”
That’s a quality that was entwined with Missouri basketball under Anderson’s mentor, Norm Stewart, but a quality that anyone who watched MU the last few seasons might say has been missing.
In fact, Anderson flinched during the first day of the defensive-oriented drills and thought, “Oh, my goodness.”
“Then, by the third day, they were 100 times better,” he said. “So they’re learners. They’re trying, and that’s all I can ask them to do …
“The technique’s still a long way from being there, but the effort is better, and that’s the first key thing.”
Especially if the honeymoon phase is going to transition into a flourishing long-term relationship everyone hopes it will be.
“There’s going to be some rough moments” with such a young team, Anderson said. “But our stamp on this is to come out and play with an intensity level and aggressiveness and play hard. And if we do that, I think the fans will like that. I think they’ll appreciate that.”
Enough so, he hopes, that a year from now he’ll still be getting standing ovations as he makes the rounds.
And not because of sentimentality but because something has started to take in a job he considers nothing less than a sacred trust.