In a profession speckled with rogues and hucksters among its more virtuous sorts, new Missouri men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson stands above most as an opposite extreme.
He is 6 feet 7 inches of genuine gentleman and self-deprecating wit.
Talk to him, and he’ll actually listen, rare and telling in itself.
All of which makes Anderson almost universally liked and about unanimously seen as just plain nice.
Yet it’s basically that demeanor that makes detractors wonder whether he can make a nimble leap from coaching Division II Central Missouri to the national championship to whisking Mizzou back to national prominence.
But there’s this curious contradictory snippet in his profile that speaks to a broader, more important truth about Anderson even if the example isn’t inherently laudable.
No MU basketball player fouled out of more games in a career (34) or season (13) than Anderson.
On Tuesday at his introductory news conference, Anderson was presented a replica of his No. 42 jersey from the 1970s that seemed inauthentic to one observer.
“There’s no blood on that thing; it doesn’t belong to Kim,” former Tiger Al Eberhard joked to Anderson’s father, Keith.
Even one who protested a few of the fouls now bears witness to their legitimacy.
“I’ll tell you one thing: They weren’t slapping fouls, either,” former Tigers coach Norm Stewart said, laughing.
With a chuckle, Anderson embraced the distinction as a record that probably will never be broken and tried to answer what it suggested about the way he played.
“The positive interpretation would be I played hard, and the negative would be I played stupid,” he said, deadpanning, “So I guess I played hard and stupid.”
As it happens, Anderson’s foul play is easily reconciled with his demeanor.
It had little to do with playing “stupid,” though surely he could have been more judicious at times.
It reflects his sincerity and authenticity and straightforwardness and single-mindedness of purpose, the traits that also helped make him Big Eight player of the year in 1977.
And that way is what makes him resonate as the fresh face of basketball in Missouri as MU seeks stability after churning through three coaches since Stewart retired in 1999.
That reverberated at the news conference Tuesday.
“There’s no way anybody who saw that could think that wasn’t him,” said his wife, Melissa. “What you see is what you get, really.”
That helps explain why an unscientific poll by The Star asking readers to choose between loving and loathing his hiring yielded 1,779 votes in favor and 482 against.
And it’s a reason that even those who wonder if this will work out can’t help but want it to.
“I think Missouri people are kind of a unique breed,” said Melissa Anderson, a Lee’s Summit native who on Thursday wore a Sporting KC T-shirt inside their Warrensburg home, adorned with a Royals flag. “And he’s like that. I think people can connect to that. He’s generous. He is thoughtful. And he’s one of us. One of them.”
The forces that formed Anderson still radiate from here, the house a mile or so from the Missouri State Fairgrounds that Keith Anderson and his wife, Donna, bought 57 years ago.
It’s the immaculately maintained home with the manicured lawn and the U.S. flag flying and a smaller Central Missouri banner on display — and dueling Mizzou logos etched in concrete at the doorstep.
Here, the melt-your-heart kind Keith Anderson, 85, delights in having a visitor in his living room, where he could still picture former Kansas coach Ted Owens showing his son post-up moves on a recruiting visit while Stewart was idling outside.
He calls the house where Kim Anderson shared a room with his younger brother, Kevin, “nothing fancy.”
And that seems a point of pride for a longtime teacher, coach and referee who put himself through Central Missouri with jobs that included a few summers in Kansas City driving 4 a.m. delivery routes for The Star.
“We didn’t have much,” he said. “We kind of struggled there for a long time.”
But not with the most precious things: nurturing their children and setting examples and providing opportunities for them.
Some of that started in the driveway for his two oldest children, Kim and Kathy, who is three years younger and became a basketball star, too: an All-American at Central Missouri and a member of the U.S. women’s national team for three years entering the 1980 Olympics that the United States boycotted.
They learned to dribble on the gravel driveway, learned how to go left because of a bush in the way on the right that became their cushion for fadeaway shots.
“Bush didn’t last long,” Keith Anderson said. “They played until the dust would get thick out there. The backyard looked like a plowed field. Donna, my wife, she kept Kool-Aid out there all time.”
Neighborhood kids congregated there, too, for basketball, and sometimes Wiffle ball.
But mostly it was Kim vs. Kathy, because Kevin was 10 years younger than Kim. The father remembers a lot of “pushing and shoving and griping” and sometimes crying.
“It was that really fine gravel, so if you fell down you were going to get scratched pretty good,” Kim Anderson said. “Your hands were always skinned up.”
The Andersons also could play in about any school gym around since their dad held keys as a longtime administrator and coach.
That was magic to the children, who saw — and see — their father as firm, fair, honorable and amiable.
He didn’t wield an iron hand at home, but maybe he didn’t need to because his children heard how he ran his classrooms.
As a teacher, he was known for accurately throwing tennis balls and chalkboard erasers at inattentive students.
“I’d be in jail by 8 o’clock in the morning now,” he says, laughing.
Donna Anderson, who was working in special education when she died at 73 after suffering a heart attack in 2006, was more outgoing.
She was the one who needed to take care of everyone and everything, the one whose voice carried at every game her children played in, the one who instilled competitiveness in them.
The combination made for a remarkable reaction in their children, whether or not they recognized it at the time.
“We just wanted to be like them,” said Kathy Anderson, now a senior associate athletic director at Central Missouri.
So they were respectful.
One elementary-school teacher told her family that Kim Anderson was her favorite student because he’d stay after school daily to help her clean. Kathy was apt to do the same, though she scoffed that Kim actually helped clean.
They were attentive and well-behaved even if Kathy Anderson wanted her brother asked how often he said he was going to the library and didn’t.
“I’m not sure what she’s insinuating,” Kim Anderson said, with mock indignation. Still, Kim Anderson seldom, if ever, was in trouble.
“He wasn’t a saint, but there was only one night I can remember he didn’t come home when he was supposed to,” Keith Anderson said. “We made a phone call or two, and he wasn’t long to come home. I think that’s about the only time we kind of restricted what he could do the next day or two.”
And they learned to work.
Kim Anderson spent many summers working at the Sedalia Country Club, starting as a janitor and working his way up to manager.
They’d all work every summer at the state fair, where Kim Anderson typically helped with parking or selling concessions in the grandstands.
By the time Anderson arrived at MU in 1973, Stewart said, he was “eassssssy coaching” because of his parents.
Stewart and Anderson have vivid memories of their first meeting at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington about 46 years ago, possibly in 1967 before Stewart coached his first game at MU.
“It was on Court Three. I remember he came over; I was shooting,” Anderson said. “We talked a little bit, and he took me to the goal, and we started working on post moves.
“That’s pretty special when you’re 12 years old. That always made a lasting impression on me that he took the time to do that.”
Stewart came to make an even more indelible impression recruiting Anderson, who took visits to Kansas, Kansas State, Memphis, Texas and Vanderbilt. Anderson knew he would go to MU but hadn’t been out of state much and just wanted to travel, but Stewart left little to chance.
Recruiting rules were more relaxed then, and down the stretch Anderson believes Stewart drove 190 miles round trip from Columbia every day for two weeks to either visit or just hover in the Smith-Cotton High cafeteria as Anderson ate.
Anderson went on to a thriving career at MU that included helping the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 32 years.
But that season ended with a chapter in MU’s star-crossed history as the Tigers fell to Michigan 95-88 in an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game in 1976 despite Donna Anderson clutching her rosary in the stands in Louisville.
The game is best-known for Willie Smith’s 43 points. But it also featured a controversial technical-foul call on Anderson with Mizzou leading 76-71 in the final 8 minutes after trailing 50-37 at halftime.
Anderson had escaped for a layup only to be undercut at the rim and grabbed it for self-preservation.
The layup was ruled a dunk, which wasn’t allowed then, and Anderson was assessed a technical. Michigan got free throws and the ball and outscored rattled MU 24-12 in the final minutes.
Stewart still struggles some to talk about the ruling that arguably kept MU from its only Final Four.
Asked if the play had seemed game-changing, Stewart said, “Oh, it was more than that. That changed a lot of things.”
Including, Stewart believes, the dunk being reinstated the next season.
At the time, Anderson felt the anguish but naïvely thought, “Well, we’ll just come back next year.”
Now he knows nothing can be taken for granted through a career that included playing briefly in the NBA and three years in Europe before starting his coaching life at Mizzou in 1982.
Anderson paid serious dues there, driving around the state with then-MU assistant Gary Filbert to conduct clinics, sometimes for $12.50 a day each, and selling sunglasses that read “Mizzou” on one lens and “Tigers” on the other before football games at Memorial Stadium.
“I truly have come a long way,” Anderson said, laughing.
For a long time, it wasn’t evident he would come back this way.
He spent 11 years in two coaching stints at Mizzou only to be jilted for the top job in 1999, a rejection that pained him and his wife but that they also learned to compartmentalize and not feed.
On he went to the Big 12, where he served as director of basketball operations for four years and kept absorbing tips from other coaches even as it appeared he wouldn’t join their ranks again.
And on he went to Central Missouri when athletic director Jerry Hughes had a vision Anderson was the right man for the job.
And then Anderson took the Mules to his third Final Four and the championship in March to finally become the right man for the MU job when Frank Haith left for Tulsa.
Along the way, so many experiences have formed Anderson’s profile.
But mostly he stayed true to himself and what he comes from, the same characteristics that always have and always will serve him well.
“If you want an eagle,” Stewart said, “get an eagle egg.”