COLUMBIA — It's about the relationships.
This season, Missouri men's basketball coach Frank Haith inherited a veteran team stocked with seniors. And through building relationships, that team has bought into his program and brought the Tigers a 9-0 start.
Kennesaw State (2-5)
at Missouri (9-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
"I really believe in order to get to your players, you can't only communicate with them within that 94 feet," Haith said in Monday's Big 12 teleconference. "You've got to have time with them off the court where they get to know you so that trust is built up."
Trust has been Haith's mantra from day one. After Missouri's season-opener against Southeast Missouri State, it was an explanation he gave for senior Kim English's improvement.
"Spending a lot of time with (Kim) has helped," Haith said. "Guys have to know you believe in them. Trust is such an important word in building your basketball team."
It's the little things, like sitting with the players when the team flies to away games. On Dec. 4, when flying to New York for the Jimmy V Classic, English tweeted, "You can tell a lot about a Head Coach that doesn't sit in first class and sits in Coach w/ his troops. #Humble #FrankHaith."
Haith said he won't embarrass his players on the sidelines. Showing that he cares has helped him develop a disciplined team.
"There is a fine line, but you can discipline if you have that respect of your players in terms of they know you care about them," Haith said.
Maybe the tougher challenge was getting players like Matt and Phil Pressey, who viewed their previous coach, Mike Anderson, as more than just a coach, to buy into Haith as a coach and person. To Matt and Phil Pressey, Anderson was "Uncle Mike," the reason they came to MU, their father's best friend and college roommate.
"They were in a tough situation, no question," Haith said. "They've completely bought in to what we're trying to do, and I think they're playing really well. Both kids are."
And that is how a roster he didn't recruit has come to accept him as their coach.
"I've embraced these guys, these are our guys," Haith said.
With wins over Villanova and Navy last week, the Tigers have maintained their No. 10 ranking in the Associated Press poll as one of nine unbeaten teams in the nation. No. 6 Baylor is the only other team in the Big 12 Conference with a perfect season so far.
In the Big 12, Missouri is the leader in more statistical categories as a team and individually than any other team in the conference. Senior Marcus Denmon is the leading scorer in the league, averaging 21.3 points per game, and the Tigers top the charts as a team, averaging 85.4 points per game.
Senior Ricardo Ratliffe is ranked first in the Big 12 and second nationally in field goal percentage, shooting 76 percent.
English leads the Big 12 in 3-point percentage, with Denmon as a close second, and sophomore Phil Pressey leads in steals.
The MU Athletics Department announced a special ticket offer for Thursday's game against Kennesaw State, with lower-level tickets for $15 and upper-level tickets for $5.