Even as virtually all available, tangible, logical signs pointed Sunday night to Central Missouri coach Kim Andersonbeing chosen as the next men’s basketball coach
at the University of Missouri, mentor Norm Stewart was too anxious, even afraid, to assume anything.
It was like having a lead with 10 seconds left, he said, laughing, but with one more possession to defend.
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So after Anderson called Stewart on Monday to share the news, he was intensely moved.
So much so that he seemingly had to pause to collect himself to describe the feeling.
“I have to tell you, there is an emotion here, because I’ve known him since the eighth grade,” Stewart, 79, said by telephone from California.
Anderson already was about 6-foot-2, Stewart recalled, when he met him at a camp at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington.
“I can still see him, standing at the stage,” Stewart said.
This sentimentality makes for a reconciliation of sorts for Stewart and MU, which had passed over Anderson three times for the job since Stewart retired in 1999.
Anderson, from Sedalia, was Stewart’s top assistant when athletic director Mike Alden turned, essentially, to an anti-Norm in flashy, raffish Duke assistant Quin Snyder.
Some close to Anderson came to believe Alden never would turn to someone with ties to Stewart.
Even after Anderson cajoled the Mules to the Division II championship last month and the MU job came open, it could be wondered whether Alden might feel he would be admitting a mistake by hiring Anderson now.
So that is a nice healing and galvanizing flourish, which even came with Stewart lavishing praise on the MU administration for the “excellent” search process. It also says something about Alden’s ability to grow.
But this is about more than that, and Stewart knows that, too.
“This isn’t a Norm or anti-Norm thing,” said Tom Dore, an MU teammate of Anderson’s and former Chicago Bulls broadcaster. “The people that know the game that I’m talking to are saying, ‘Wow, what a great hire.’
Dore might be partial, but he also knows of what he speaks.
More than anything else, this is about what Anderson, 58, brings to his alma mater:
An impeccable image to sell for a school that’s had two of its last three coaches sullied by NCAA investigations; a knack for instilling fundamentally sound, defensive-minded mentalities in his teams and a sense of constancy and trust with coaches throughout the state — where all of this starts and where there has been a disconnect with Mizzou for some years.
At a time MU basketball is seeking its identity after constant flux, Anderson has a foundation steeped in Stewart’s ways but a personality and means of his own to impart formed by numerous other experiences.
He played in Portland for Jack Ramsay,who died Monday
. He played professionally in Europe.
He was the Big 12 director of basketball operations, which allowed him to absorb the work of coaches from Rick Barnes to Bob Knight to Roy Williams.
“He got to see every guy at work,” TV analyst and former Tigers star Jon Sundvold said. “When you do that, you pick up stuff and you drop stuff off and you take bits and pieces.”
Without jabbing Anderson’s predecessor, Frank Haith, Sundvold added, “The players don’t know Kim Anderson yet. But they’re going to find out that this guy, when he talks the game to a player, they’re going to go, ‘Gosh, this is different than I’ve heard.’
They don’t know Anderson yet, but they’ll come to realize he was a Big Eight player of the year and that he’s been where they want to go.
That will give him credibility with his players … even as skeptics wonder what kind of players he’ll be able to get.
Sundvold has an answer to that.
“We’ve had some players in our state that haven’t gone to Mizzou, right?” said Sundvold, who played at Blue Springs High. “Now, they won’t all come, but if you get one or two of the guys in the last 10 years: I mean, I’m watching David Lee play for the Warriors. I’m watching Bradley Beal play for the Washington Wizards. I’m watching (Tyler) Hansbrough with Toronto.
“They’re all Missouri kids. Now you don’t get them all. But you only need one (to start with). There was one Anthony Peeler, who sure made Missouri pretty good.”
So that’s Anderson’s task now, not to be a clone of Stewart but to make Missouri basketball pretty good again.
It’s a healthy touch that he is a reflection of Stewart, a touch that energizes a base of Tiger fans.
But that was a springboard, not an end, to what Anderson represents.
“I think that the ties fill in some blanks for some people, but I think most of us have not worried too much about all that,” Sundvold said. “Kim Anderson wouldn’t be hired if he wasn’t a good coach; he wouldn’t be hired just to tie things (together).”
Instead, he was hired to run a clean program, to coach teams to be smart and tough and defend the right way and to make good decisions and have the best shooters take the best shots and execute down the stretch.
“The game has progressed. So Kim Anderson, when you watch his teams play at Central Missouri, it’s not watching Norm Stewart teams: Kim is Kim,” Sundvold said. “But to a fan, there’s a bonus point: ‘Oh, by the way, he’s one of our guys, he grew up in Sedalia. And he coaches kind of like we’re used to.’
And like his mentor will be proud of for one reason more than any other.
“At the end of the day,” Dore said, “he’s the right hire.”