Sure, Kim Anderson knew he was inheriting a jumbled mess when he took his dream job at Missouri.
But it’s a job that in this nightmare season, anyway, has to feel a little bit like he reached for fool’s gold inside a mirage.
Careful what you wish for.
Because, alas, it might not be all that.
At least, in this case, not before some intense housecleaning and wading into the muck to restore a fractured foundation.
So this is why Anderson has lost 17 pounds this season, even if he’s quick to suggest that’s as much because he’s exercising for stress relief as because of stress itself.
This is why Anderson surely is suffering deeply amid MU’s longest losing streak in nearly 50 years, nine games now after an 83-61 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“No one’s more disappointed than me,” he said. “People can say they are, but no one’s more disappointed than me.”
Not so disappointed, though, as to compromise his integrity and long-range approach.
That’s why the most notable point to emerge from MU’s latest loss wasn’t necessarily that it’s the worst such streak since the Tigers lost 12 in a row in 1966-67.
It was that the game began with the suspensions of freshmen Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright, the eighth and ninth players (including two who have left the program) that Anderson has disciplined since taking over.
Combine that with the ongoing suspension of freshman Tramaine Isabell, and MU, 7-16 overall and 1-9 in the Southeastern Conference, was relegated to playing with eight scholarship players.
Add it all up, and only four players have been exempt from known disciplinary action since Anderson took over.
None of that is enhancing MU’s chances of winning much, of course.
But it is making a bold and substantial statement during a time of flux in a program that has had three coaches in the last five years — and was left in a shambles because of Frank Haith’s overreliance on transfers and miscalculation of high school talent, leaving Anderson with a thin, makeshift group of returnees.
All of which is why Anderson gets a mulligan for this season, no matter how exasperating it’s become for MU fans, as he attends to the infrastructure that will be the baseline for the future of the program.
The idea is to have a basketball program that the school can be proud of, Anderson said, and that means a lot more than just winning.
“We are going to do the right thing(s) …,” Anderson said. “I want to win basketball games, but I said this when I was hired and I say it today: I am a teacher, so I want to help these kids grow up.
“And if this is the way I can help them, whether we win or lose, that’s the way I’m going to do it.”
Anderson harkened to his own playing days under Norm Stewart, starting in 1973-74.
Not the part where MU had an eight-game losing streak in Anderson’s freshman year, something Anderson says he doesn’t remember, but the growing pains.
“We would have disagreements when I was playing, but I always remember one thing he told me … ‘When you get out of here with your degree and you go away, I can’t wait for the day in five years when you call me on the phone and say, Coach, you know what, you were right, you were right about some of this stuff,’ ” Anderson said, smiling.
It took him less than that, he recalled, to acknowledge that to Stewart.
“Can I teach these guys that? I don’t know, but I’m damn sure going to try … ” he said. “As long as I’m sitting in this spot, we’re going to do it the right way. We’re going to try to do it the right way; obviously, we haven’t done it the right way.”
As per his policy, and that of just about any coach, Anderson has declined to specify what the recent suspensions are for. But he gives glimpses all the time at what he’s trying to get across to his players.
During the preseason, for instance, Anderson introduced Isabell to me, urging Isabell to look me in the eye and greet me as he shook my hand. Even after another maddening loss Saturday, Anderson saw a “teachable moment” for sophomore guard Wes Clark and freshman forward Jakeenan Gant.
As he told them they were coming to the interview room with him, Anderson insisted when they got there that they “enunciate your words correctly, and you are going to sit up.”
“You guys (in the media) are out there and I’m up here, but I would give them both at least an A-minus: What do you think?” asked Anderson, who was met with nods of agreement. “So, we taught ’em something. That’s good. That’s common courtesy.”
On the surface, that might seem to have nothing to do with the heart of the matter — the resuscitation of the program.
Then again, in this season in which all of MU’s recent debts came due, maybe the best hope to measure progress right now is in the intangible of improvement in any category.
“I know your job is to focus on the losing streak,” Anderson said, not complaining, just saying. “I’m not as focused on that as I am on trying to help these guys get better.”
Even if he had little idea how much better he’s going to have to help them get — on and off the court.
“This has been the biggest challenge of my career,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “That would be the best way I’ve said it.”