Mike Anderson Jr. goes from player to coach on Missouri men's basketball team

Friday, January 22, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:58 p.m. CST, Friday, January 22, 2010
Mike Anderson Jr., a graduate assistant with the MU men's basketball team, listens as his father, head coach Mike Anderson, talks after the practice Wednesday. Last season, Anderson Jr. was a senior player on the team.

COLUMBIA — Since childhood Mike Anderson Jr.'s life has been basketball.

Growing up he spent his time following his father, Missouri men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson, while he was an assistant coach at Arkansas for coach Nolan Richardson. Every day after school Anderson Jr. would walk down the street to the practice gym to watch and learn. At age 5, he was taking his father’s dry erase boards and drawing basketball plays. He would hover around the coaches much like a bee around a flower, collecting knowledge of the game.

As Anderson Jr. got older, the pollen he gathered began to make honey. While playing on the Missouri men’s basketball team, he used the knowledge to become a leader on the team despite limited playing time. He knew how to communicate what the coaches wanted to say, but from a player’s perspective. He was a mentor to DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons offering advice and encouragement when his father's expectations seemed too high. Senior guard J.T. Tiller, who came to Missouri three years ago with Anderson Jr., said Anderson Jr. always had a coach’s mentality.

“When he was my teammate, I could see him as my coach because he’s learned so much from Coach A's system ... that that advice he’s giving, is like the coach’s advice,” Tiller said.

So it is no surprise that less than a year removed from playing, Anderson Jr. has traded in his jersey for a suit and tie and a seat on the bench with his father as a graduate assistant coach. The decision means he is faced with the difficult task of transforming from a player to a coach.

“The whole experience within itself has been kind of weird because I was just on the court last year, and now I’m on the other side of it,” Anderson Jr. said. “My whole mental approach is a different way.”

The decision to coach came about after he graduated college. Despite the long road it is sure to be, Anderson Jr. said he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted to do except sit on the bench beside his father. Anderson agreed, but included a warning.

“I told him, first of all, I think he’s crazy to get into it. With all the things that take place, the stress, your livelihood depending on young adults making decisions,” Anderson said. "But at the same time, it’s probably in his blood.”

The transition has been like an older child being put in charge of the house and his siblings for the first time. He has had to earn his respect while trying to find that balance of responsibility and having fun.

Everything has changed. He can’t go to the same places downtown as he did as a player, and he has had to dress in a suit and tie for games. Anderson Jr. said it has been so different, he once dressed for a game hours before for shoot-around before realizing he didn’t have to be ready for another few hours. Missouri assistant coach T.J. Cleveland, who is also Anderson Jr.'s cousin, said even how people perceive him is going to be different.

“When you’re in a different role, you are seen in a different occupation,” Cleveland said. “It may mean (avoiding) clubs, it may mean different things. You just have to know you are a professional now.”  

Even his relationship with the players is different. During a scrimmage Wednesday, when Anderson Jr. tried to tell forward Keith Ramsey and Laurence Bowers to move more in the post, Ramsey shouted back like the direction was not needed.

“It’s just weird, like when we break down to guards and forwards,” Tiller said. “You got to actually call him coach and run different things now, so it’s kind of new.”

At practice, it is easy to see who Anderson Jr. goes to the most for help. In the huddle, he constantly watches Cleveland as he draws plays. When Cleveland shouted to the team that it was playing too slow, Anderson Jr. issued identical instructions.

"That's been a big help. He's been around, but he's kind of like me, he got done playing and went right into it," Anderson Jr. said of his cousin.

“He watched me as I got in this profession and kind of grew,” Cleveland said. “He’s always been around just sucking it up.”

His youth is a double-edged sword. While he must work harder for respect, he also can relate to the players better than anyone else on the staff. During games he sits at the end of the bench farthest from the assistant coaches and his father. He is able to calm players down after they have been scolded by another coach with advice closer to their perspective. It is an asset the team didn’t have last year.

“He was one of our senior leaders last year,” Cleveland said. “He still has some of that wisdom from being a senior on a winning team and that leadership role and what it takes to be a leader, so he can take that attitude to J.T., Zaire (Taylor), Keith (Ramsey) and those guys.

Anderson Jr. has been a source of non-stop energy. On one defensive possession in Wednesday's scrimmage, he went from sitting to crouching to standing and then back to sitting again all in a span of a minute. During games he is as energetic as the players, standing up and cheering before realizing that he has to compose himself because he is a coach.  

“I still get an adrenaline rush. That’s why I have a passion for it,” Anderson Jr. said. “I still get excited like I’m ready to play … but nothing's changed except my role.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the enthusiasm he had as a child. At the end of practice Wednesday, Anderson Jr. was found in a circle listening intently as his father and assistant coach Matt Zimmerman analyzed that day’s practice. He spends chunks of time buzzing around between other coaches' offices learning everything from how to recruit to how to talk to the players.

“I think the most fun thing for me is coming and learning,” Anderson Jr. said. “I follow these guys around all day, I’m sure they’re getting tired of me, like I’m in their back pocket or something.”

Now nearly 20 years after drawing plays on his father’s dry erase board, things haven’t changed much. Anderson Jr. is still gathering knowledge and preparing to make his own mark on the college basketball world. What he learned in his youth has stuck with him.

With his team up 30 points, Anderson Jr. sits on the bench near the end of the scrimmage and shouts the same things his father would. He tells his team to forget about the score and continue to play hard in the same way his father would, starting out quietly and then getting louder with each word until he is just short of yelling.

“I think just seeing him talking about those things, it kind of reminds me of when I was coming out," Anderson said. “I like his enthusiasm, and I think that’s important, and our guys respond to it.”

However, he adds his own touch of humor.

“Put in Sutton, put in Sutton,” Anderson Jr. says imitating the crowd cheers during blowouts on gameday.

Anderson Jr. doesn't know what life has in store for him, but he knows it will involve basketball one way or another.

“I don’t know what my path is going to be, but I try to picture myself where I want to be,” Anderson Jr. said. “I know it’s not going to be as smooth and glorious as it is when you make it there, but ultimately I want to make it my own.”

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