COLUMBIA — Frank Haith didn't waste any time. The moment Tuesday arrived, the Missouri men's basketball coach returned to work, marking the end of his five-game suspension.
“I came over to the office last night around midnight and spent about an hour in there just going through some stuff,” Haith said Tuesday morning in a teleconference with reporters. “It feels good, really good, to be back.
Who: Northwestern Wildcats (4-2)
When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Orleans Arena in Las Vegas
Listen: Tiger Radio Network
“I’m very humbled about being back. I’m just a guy doing what I do. It’s truly a blessing.”
Haith returns to an unblemished squad. The team cruised to a 5-0 record under interim coach Tim Fuller during Haith’s five-game hiatus.
"I'll finally be able to sleep," Fuller said. "I saw just how challenging coach Haith's job really is."
Haith gave Fuller high marks for his handling of those challenges.
“I thought the staff did a great job,” Haith said. “Tim did a great job. And that’s a hard thing to do. Obviously, there’s things we’ve got to get better at, and we will. But under the circumstances, I thought he did a great, great job.”
Haith said he “was not a good person to be around” while watching the Tigers’ five games during the suspension, which he did alone at home.
“I was able to see a lot and learn a lot about our team, about everything,” Haith said. “It’s helpful to me to come back to the team and be able to share with them the things that I learned watching them from afar and talking to people that watched our games.”
What Haith saw was a team he believes could shoot better (50.5 percent now), rebound better (41.4 per game) and create better ball movement.
As for lineup changes, Haith said he’d like to get the team’s post players more involved, mentioning Tony Criswell (13 minutes per game) and Keanau Post (9.2 minutes per game) as two post players he’d like to see play more. Haith mentioned guards Jabari Brown (37 minutes per game) and Jordan Clarkson (30.4 minutes per game) as players he intends to play less.
“I told the staff there are some guys I want to see get more minutes and some guys I want to see get less,” Haith said. “I understand where they were at. They didn’t want to lose games. We’ve got to monitor the heavy minutes on Jabari and Jordan a little bit, and we need to get some other guys involved. And we will.”
After 18 days without Haith, the players are relived to get their coach back.
“I really enjoyed playing for Coach Fuller; he brought me here. But I love Coach Haith as well, so it will be exciting to have him back,” Brown said. “We were playing for him while he was gone, and we will continue to do so once he gets back. It will be just another burst of energy.”
No contact with Jankovic
Because of Stefan Jankovic’s decision to transfer, Haith returned to a team that had one fewer player than the one he stepped away from.
Haith was suspended for “failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance” during his time at the University of Miami. According to the guidelines of the suspension, he was prohibited from having any contact with players. Haith said he had planned to talk to Jankovic but had notas of Tuesday.
“In Stef's case, he wants a larger role, and I think most kids today, there's a microwave society. They want it quick, and my understanding from the staff, he didn't see that happening,” Haith said. “We've got some guys that are coming along. You guys are watching (Johnathan Williams III). He's putting up 17 rebounds. He's a nice player. You've got two other young post players that are pretty good players, and then obviously, we signed Jakeenan (Gant), who I'm really excited about.
“It is part of the culture of what's going on in college athletics. Guys have got to be willing to compete and want to compete and play. I think we were fair to our players. We're going to play the guys that produce, but I understand in Stef's case, he wants a larger role, and he wants to be able to get out there and play.”
Degree of difficulty increasing
Haith’s return coincides with the arrival of stiffer competition for Missouri. Starting with Thursday night’s tilt against Northwestern, five of the Tigers’ eight remaining nonconference opponents belong to major conferences.
After playing Northwestern and Nevada on Thursday and Friday in the 2013 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, the Tigers will face West Virginia and UCLA, putting on the line their 77-game winning streak at home against nonconference opponents.