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Mike and Marcheita Anderson make basketball a family environment

Thursday, January 6, 2011 | 10:38 p.m. CST; updated 11:11 a.m. CST, Friday, January 7, 2011
With associate head coach Melvin Watkins at his side, MU men's basketball head coach Mike Anderson cranes his neck around a referee to see a play more clearly during a game against Northern Illinois University on Monday, December 27, 2010, at Mizzou Arena. The game marked Anderson's 100th win as Missouri's head coach.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified which players were Anderson recruits and which were inherited from Snyder's team.

COLUMBIA – Mike and Marcheita Anderson walked past each other in the hall and kept going.

“I didn’t date athletes,” Marcheita Anderson said, eyebrows slanted inward, her eyes stern. “I dated serious-minded people.”

Big 12 Conference opener

No. 9 Missouri Tigers (14-1)
at Colorado Buffaloes (11-4)

WHEN: 12:47 p.m., Saturday
WHERE:
Coors Event Center, Boulder, Colo.
RADIO:
KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV:
KMIZ/Channel 17

Missouri has won eight consecutive games in the series, but will face a new-look from the Buffaloes under first year coach Tad Boyle.



But she knew they were supposed to meet. Mike Anderson had just finished two years playing basketball at the University of Tulsa. Marcheita Anderson worked at the university. And all of their mutual friends were telling them they needed to meet.

Mike Anderson was walking by with a few friends. Marcheita Anderson wondered if he was going to say something to her. He didn’t. They walked past each other and kept going.

So she turned around and walked toward him. She realized he wasn’t going to say anything. So she just stopped.

“I just stopped in front of him and he just started smiling. And I said, ‘I’m Marcheita.’ And he said, ‘I’m Mike.’”

***

Mike Anderson grew up one of eight kids in the Ensley neighborhood on the southwest edge of Birmingham, Ala. He was born in 1959 and was a kid during the heat of the civil rights movement – and opposition. His dad would pull him in the house when the Ku Klux Klan marched down the Andersons’ street.

“You do what your parents tell you to do at that time because you don’t know what the consequences are if you don’t,” said Marcheita Anderson, married to Mike Anderson for 25 years.

It was his discipline, along with his work ethic and fearlessness, that made Mike Anderson a “dream player” for Nolan Richardson. Richardson discovered Mike Anderson during the 1980 Junior College National Championship game. Richardson coached Western Texas Junior College. In the title game, his team played Jefferson State Community College, led by Mike Anderson.

“There was no reason for (his team) to even be there,” Richardson said. “But when you looked at Mike, he just put them on his back and said ‘Let’s go.’”

Mike Anderson fouled out, and Western Texas won. After the season, Richardson took a head coaching job at Tulsa.

“The next thing I did when the championship was over, I said, ‘We’ve got to have that little guy,’” Richardson said. “I took four of my players with Mike, and we went to Tulsa.”

During Mike Anderson’s two years at Tulsa, the team won 50 games.

Richardson had more talented players – like future NBA player Paul Pressey – but Mike Anderson was his favorite. Nobody could outwork him. His grades were always good. In the summer, when Richardson found his players jobs, Mike Anderson never missed a day of work.

Richardson remembers a game against Creighton. Tulsa was losing by 21 with seven or eight minutes left. In those final minutes, Mike Anderson took seven charges. Seven. Tulsa won.

“It was the biggest display I have ever seen in college basketball to this day, and I’ve been coaching for 43 years,” Richardson said.

Richardson brought Mike Anderson with him to Arkansas in 1985, this time to coach. If he wasn’t already like a son to Richardson, Mike Anderson became one during 17 years at Arkansas. He became Richardson’s right-hand man on the bench. They won the national championship together in 1994.

Before Richardson’s daughter died from leukemia at 15, Mike Anderson often drove her to the hospital. When she flew to a hospital in Minnesota with her mom, Mike Anderson drove a car from Arkansas to Minnesota so they had a way to get around. He was part of the family.

The Arkansas basketball family included his own family. The Anderson’s apartment was right down the street from the schools Mike Anderson Jr. attended, which were right down the street from the basketball arena.

The Anderson children grew up doing their homework in the bleachers while their dad helped run practice for the Arkansas basketball team. After practice, they shot hoops for a while before going home.

That’s how it’s always worked for the Andersons. Basketball and family, together, not separate.

In 2002, Mike Anderson moved his family to his hometown of Birmingham when he became head coach at UAB. When Richardson took him to Tulsa, in 1980, he had promised Mike Anderson’s mom that even though he was taking her boy, he would send her back a man. When Mike Anderson took the UAB job, Mrs. Anderson called Richardson.

“She called me up and said, ‘Coach, you did right. You sent me back a man,’” Richardson said. “‘But what took you so damn long?’”

***

“It’s all gonna be all right,” Mike Anderson Jr. said. “That’s pretty much been our mantra as a family ever since our days in the one-bedroom apartment in Fayetteville, Arkansas.”

It’s a mantra Mike Anderson uses for his team, which is just an extended family.

Mike Anderson, Jr., played for his dad and is now a graduate assistant for Missouri. DeMarre Carroll, Mike Anderson’s nephew, played for Missouri. But look at others who play for and coach under Mike Anderson and you’ll see that family, to him, means more than blood-related.

Two of Missouri’s assistants – Matt Zimmerman and T.J. Cleveland – were a part of teams at Arkansas while Anderson was there. Two of Missouri’s new players this year – Matt and Phil Pressey – are the sons of Paul Pressey, Mike Anderson’s roommate at Tulsa.

Mike Anderson talks with Richardson, now coach of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock, every day. They’ve talked every day for the past five years. Richardson watches almost every Missouri game on TV. After every postgame press conference, Mike Anderson calls him to talk about the game.

None of their other calls are scheduled.

“What do you need a schedule with your son for?” Richardson said.

***

Mike Anderson requires his players to sign in on a sheet of paper in his office every day. He wants to see each of his players outside practices and games.

Mike Anderson Jr. thinks back to something Missouri guard Kim English posted on Twitter once. It was something like, “It’s amazing when you can talk to your college basketball coach for 25 minutes and not talk about basketball.”

“That says it all, right there,” Mike Anderson Jr. said.

Relationships and communication.

“They’ve got to know that you’re looking out for their best interests,” he said.

The only person who does it better is a mom.

***

Mike Anderson was raised by disciplinarians. He played and coached for one in Richardson. It only makes sense that he’s one too. During practice, Mike Anderson will intentionally insult his players. He’s called forward Laurence Bowers “soft.”

“He motivates you by saying little stuff that he knows is going to piss you off but that’s going to make you go out there and play a lot harder,” Bowers said last season.

Sometimes, though, players need a mom, which is where Marcheita Anderson comes in.

“Mike is very strict,” said Marcheita Anderson, wearing black and gold-striped high heels and a matching belt. “I kind of offer the side of a mother; a nurturer when it comes to the players.”

She’ll talk to Missouri’s players about anything. She likes to pester them about their girlfriends.

She’ll ask, “Is that your girlfriend? Why haven’t I met her?”

She cooks for the team and makes her special lemonade. It doesn’t have a special ingredient, but she makes it a certain way and keeps her method secret. The players love her lemonade.

She works with her husband to help players find a place of worship in Columbia.

“A lot of their parents will say, ‘Coach, my son needs to go to church,’” she said. “And we’ll say, ‘OK, let’s see if we can help him find a place.’”

She plays mom for the players, but she plays listener for her husband. He makes decisions on his own, but he often makes them while talking to her.

“Really what I do most is just listen because if I let him talk long enough, he figures out exactly what he wants to do without me saying anything,” Marcheita Anderson said.

But sometimes she has to take charge, so that he does too.

“He’s a very inclusive person, so he doesn’t really feel like he’s the boss,” Marcheita Anderson said. “He feels he’s a part of the team. And sometimes I have to say, ‘You are the boss.’ He’s a very fair-minded person.”

Matt Zimmerman, a Missouri assistant coach, says Mike Anderson spoils his assistants. He wants them to have a life outside coaching. He tells them to go home and spend time with their families.

Most college teams divide recruits among coaches. Each coach is responsible for certain recruits. Missouri uses what its coaches call a “team recruiting” system. All coaches have a hand in recruiting each player. When a player Missouri wants goes elsewhere, the blame falls on the whole staff. There’s no finger-pointing.

Melvin Watkins, Missouri’s associate head coach, said Mike Anderson often reminds him, “We work together. You don’t work for me.”

***

Every Sunday, unless they’re on the road, the Andersons attend service at Urban Empowerment, a church near Columbia College. They sit in the first row. Like during dinner or other times during the week, they put basketball on hold.

“With coaching, it’s all faith,” Mike Anderson Jr. said. “If you don’t have a strong sense of faith, then it’ll drive you crazy. You have to have it.”

When Mike Anderson makes a big decision, like leaving UAB and his hometown to take the Missouri job, he believes he’s not making it on his own.

“He has a strong faith, so he doesn’t feel like he’s doing it all,” Marcheita Anderson said.

Without faith, Mike Anderson might not have survived his first two seasons at Missouri.

When he was hired as Missouri’s head coach in March 2006, the athletics department was a mess. Athletic Director Mike Alden – the man who hired him – was in jeopardy of losing his job.

The press conference to introduce Mike Anderson was pushed back while the UM Board of Curators met to discuss Alden’s job. Mike Anderson was walking into what looked like a disaster.

Before the press conference, Marcheita Anderson told her husband it was all just a “smoke screen.” Have faith.

Even after the initial smoke faded, more rose. As Mike Anderson was creating his Missouri basketball family, he found he was working with some parts that didn’t fit.

In his first year-and-a-half at Missouri, he suspended three different players for off-court incidents. In January 2008, he faced his biggest decision. Five Missouri players – Stefhon Hannah, Jason Horton, Marshall Brown, Darryl Butterfield and Leo Lyons – were involved in a fight outside Athena Night Club. Two – Hannah and Horton – were arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault. Mike Anderson suspended all five players involved in the fight, leaving his team with just seven players for its next game against Nebraska.

“Some coaches would have had a very difficult time doing something like that,” said Melvin Watkins, Missouri’s associate head coach and former Texas A&M head coach. “Without blinking an eye, it was the right thing to do, and he did it.

“I can tell you, there are a lot of coaches who would not have done that because of the fear of losing a game. We were more concerned about winning our program.”

Three players — Horton, Brown and Lyons* — were ones Mike Anderson inherited from Quin Snyder. Four were seniors. It would have been easy, maybe even logical, to dismiss them from the team or bench them for the remainder of the season. He could have played all his other players to get ready for the next season.

He didn’t.

"When he came into that job, all those kids were his,” Richardson said. “That’s how he saw it. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

For Zaire Taylor, the Mike Anderson way was just what he needed. Taylor slept in computer labs during his final semester at the University of Delaware. He was evicted from his apartment after his roommate left school without telling him and he couldn’t pay the rent on his own. He made do so he could earn the credits he needed to transfer to Missouri. A few years later, now under Mike Anderson’s wing, Taylor beat Kansas with a last-second shot, played in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and, last December, graduated.

But no matter how much he cares for his players, for some of them, Mike Anderson’s way doesn’t work. It didn’t for Stefhon Hannah, one of the five involved in the Athena incident. Instead of sticking with his coach like his coach stuck with his players, Hannah went home to Chicago after the incident. When two weeks had passed and he didn’t return, Mike Anderson dismissed him from the team.

Even Mike Anderson’s son and nephew got into trouble. He suspended his son Mike Anderson Jr. for a drunken-driving charge. He created a “no tolerance” policy after DeMarre Carroll, his nephew, was shot in the foot outside a club.

Sometimes the family breaks down.

“It hurts, because he’s for his players, and all he wants them to do is be successful,” Marcheita Anderson said. “And when they are stopping themselves from being successful, that really bothers him. But he doesn’t believe in throwing away kids. He believes that they can redeem themselves.”

Sometimes they don’t. Even then, Mike Anderson doesn’t look back and wonder. He says he rarely looks back. He just has faith in the way he does things.

***

College basketball coaches could work 24 hours a day and still not feel prepared. It seems like some do.

Mike Anderson watches a movie before every game. He goes to the basement, reclines in his black La-Z-Boy and watches a movie on his 60-inch Samsung TV. He likes old cowboy movies and gangster movies. Sometimes he’ll watch video of Missouri’s opponent, but he’s usually already done enough of that.

“He says he’s working and then I look down and he’s sleeping,” Marcheita Anderson says, laughing.

He likes to take time to relax, and he does it often. He sits in his La-Z-Boy, props his feet on a big leather ottoman – where all his players sit when they come to the house to watch video of an opponent, or a movie – watches TV and sips a Pepsi or an orange sherbet float.

Although his job almost requires it, Mike Anderson isn’t constantly stressed. Part of it is just him. He wants to be healthy. He’s an even-tempered guy. But a lot of it is his faith.

"It’s all gonna be all right.”


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