COLUMBIA — Tuesday was the first full day of the Kim Anderson era at Missouri, but the new Missouri basketball coach is already plenty familiar with the questions skeptics are asking about him.
He’s heard that he won’t be able to recruit at a high enough level. He’s heard that his lack of head coaching experience in Division I should have been a deal breaker. And, surprising to him, he’s heard his age was a detractor to some.
"Apparently, I'm old. I really had no idea of that until yesterday, and I've got to tell you, it devastated me,” the 58-year-old joked during his introductory news conference Tuesday morning at the Reynolds Alumni Center. “I didn't think I was old. I work out every day. I'm in pretty good shape.
“Hey, I'm not playing. I'm just coaching. Old ballplayers coach."
Anderson’s ability to do that is why ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla thinks Missouri made a smart hire.
“Based on who they were realistically going to be able to pay and lure to the job, Kim Anderson makes perfect sense,” Fraschilla told the Missourian on Tuesday. “Based on the fact that you have a lot of guys who are happy where they are, I thought they got a guy who is Missouri basketball through and through.
“I know this for a fact — very few of the national media guys who may be bashing this hire have any idea the level of play the MIAA (Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) play. It’s essentially a low Division I league. It’s no different than if Kim was coaching at Missouri-Kansas City. In fact, I would think that they had a better team at Central Missouri than UMKC this season.”
Central Missouri finished 30-5 after winning the Division II national championship over West Liberty. The Mules won nearly 75 percent of their games during Anderson's 12-year tenure in Warrensburg.
Fraschilla said he thinks too much is being made about Anderson’s lack of prior Division I coaching experience. He mentioned Michigan coach John Beilein and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan as proof that coaches can make the jump from Division II and excel. Anderson’s background belies his lack of D-I experience, Fraschilla said, even if he spent the last 12 seasons coaching Central Missouri.
“Let’s look at the whole history of Kim – he was a great player in the Big Eight. He played in the NBA and he played professionally overseas. He was an assistant during the heyday of Missouri basketball. On his own he’s won 75 percent of his games and he’s been a conference administrator in the Big 12,” Fraschilla said. “He’s got a variety of hats that he’s worn through the years that would more than make up for him having been a head coach at a Division I school in the last three to five years.
“The coaching part will be no problem to Kim Anderson. The whole key to Kim’s success at Missouri is going to be, 'Can he put together a staff that can recruit to the level of players that compete at the top of the SEC?' If he can do that, all of the other things that go along with the job he’s absolutely perfectly suited for.”
Anderson has proved he can coach. He compiled a 274-94 record at UCM, leading the Mules to three D-II Final Fours. But there’s that whole recruiting thing.
Assistant coach and ace recruiter Tim Fuller is still mulling a head coaching offer from Florida A&M. But if Fuller does not get that job, retaining Fuller would behoove Anderson. So would selling himself to top-100 signees Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright. Both were expected to be rotational players for Missouri next season, but are now free to sign elsewhere, if they so choose.
Keeping that trio as Tigers would be a good start to the Anderson era. Currently, Missouri has three available scholarships for next season. Unlike his predecessor Frank Haith — who's teams were largely comprised of transfers — Anderson isn’t looking for a stopgap solution to fill out his roster.
“We’re not going to really look for a quick fix,” Anderson said. “I want to build this program over a period of time. I don’t want to try to just take a bunch of guys just so we can get through a year. I like the guys we have coming back. I think we have some talent; we just have to try and build on that.
“I want kids that fans can identify with over a period of four years and obviously if you can get the great players, you do that. That’s kind of the blueprint. I want to build them over the four years.”
That’s where Fraschilla thinks Anderson’s past will help him. Anderson was a part of the best blueprint Missouri basketball has had: Norm Stewart’s.
The college basketball climate has changed, with players transferring frequently and recruiting becoming an everyday task. But Anderson said that the core of the sport is still the same.
Stewart relied heavily on high school players, especially from the Show-Me State. The way Fraschilla sees it, closing the state’s borders is the biggest key. Between Hickman’s Jimmy Whitt (a top-100 recruit in the class of 2015) and Chaminade’s Jayson Tatum (top-5 in 2016), Anderson will have the chance to show he can recruit within Missouri.
With Anderson being a Missouri man his entire life, Fraschilla said, surrounding himself with an exemplary staff will be most crucial for out-of-state prospects from hotbeds like Chicago, Dallas and Detroit.
“There is enough fertile recruiting ground that Missouri can tap into, to keep them in the upper half of the SEC and potentially competing for the occasional SEC title,” Fraschilla said.
Anderson isn’t looking for the quick fix to the program, and Fraschilla thinks that fans shouldn’t expect instant success but that if Anderson’s vision for the program materializes, Missouri basketball will consistently compete in the SEC and on the national level for years to come.
“Whoever took the job was in for a tough initial challenge,” Fraschilla said. “It wouldn’t matter if Norm Stewart himself or John Wooden were to come back and coach at Missouri; it is a tough job right now because, over the last two seasons, they’ve lost a lot of really, really good players and didn’t necessarily replace them with the same level of players.
“So whoever was going to take over the job was in the midst of a rebuilding situation. Whether they can salvage this recruiting class or not, it wouldn’t matter. Too many players have left the program, so now the key for Kim and his staff is not just sign guys for the sake of building a roster, but find the right guys over the next two to three seasons that can compete at the top of the SEC.”
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.