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Allaying concerns leads to a busy summer for new MU basketball coach

Thursday, July 3, 2014 | 6:55 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The reactions to Missouri's hire of Kim Anderson were mixed. They ranged from joy to despair, from hope to pessimism.

In two months on the job, Anderson hasn't coached a game yet — he hasn't even led an official practice — but when it comes to addressing his perceived faults, he's attacked them with vigor.

"(Anderson) has had a phenomenal summer," said Bill Connelly, a manager of the Missouri sports site "Rock M Nation," which provides analysis and opinion on basketball, football and other sports.

"He hasn't coached, but he's had a perfect first couple of months. He did what he needed to do to rally a skeptical fan base."

Connelly's analysis comes during a jam-packed summer for the new Missouricoach. Since his hire, he's retained assistant coach Tim Fuller, kept incoming four-star recruits JaKeenan Gant and Namon Wright on board and hired former Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford. In addition, Anderson has earned commitments from two three-star recruits, D'Angelo Allen and Tramaine Isabell.

A major knock on Anderson's qualifications was his ability to recruit top players, given his long tenure at Central Missouri — a Division II school that attracts lesser talent. Anderson, 58, has no previous experience as a head coach in Division I, but he was an assistant at Missouri from 1982-85 and again from 1991-99.

Pat Forde, a Missouri alumnus and sports columnist for Yahoo! Sports, said recruiting was a concern when hiring Anderson.

"He's a guy who certainly stood out in Division II, but it's a different caliber of recruit at a place like Missouri," Forde said. "The question was, 'Can he recruit at the high end of the Division I pool?'"

A majority of the summer's developments seem to be in direct response to that concern. Whether Anderson's moves end up being successful depends on the team's performance on the court, but for now, his progress has assuaged some early fears.

"Until games start and the next recruiting cycle picks up, all you can do is pass the tests you've been given," Connelly said. "(Anderson's) passed all the tests he's been given."

Fuller's future with Missouri looked cloudy after the departure of Frank Haith, who brought Fuller to the program in 2011. Rumors flew of Fuller potentially leaving for a head coaching job. Less than a week after Anderson's hire, Fuller pledged to stay at Missouri.

"I didn't want to see the program depleted," Fuller said. "I wanted to see Gant and Wright make it to campus and all those guys we brought in stick around."

Forde said keeping Fuller on staff was a key move for Anderson.

"He (Fuller) is a guy who has shown to be able to get recruits," Forde said. "He has connections in a lot of areas, especially in the South. He's one of those guys who seems to have a knack for selling the program."

Although Fuller wasn't able to keep every recruit through the coaching transition — junior college prospect Kevin Punter, a former Missouri commit, signed with Tennessee in May — his presence on Missouri's staff might have helped minimize the  damage.

"For a lot of coaches Missouri talked about bringing in, it might not have mattered if Fuller was retained," Connelly said. "If the Tigers hired Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, for example, keeping a well-known recruiter like Fuller wouldn't have been as big of a necessity. For Anderson, keeping Fuller was Missouri's best chance at keeping the recruits that had already committed to the program."

On June 23, Missouri announced the hiring of Fulford, long one of the country's best high school coaches. Fulford is from Huntington Prep in West Virginia. His alumni include former Missouri players Stefan Jankovic and Negus Webster-Chan, along with 2013 first-round draft pick Gorgui Deng and 2014 first overall pick Andrew Wiggins.

"(Fulford's hiring) sends a message," Connelly said. "The thought was, Anderson is going to (recruit) better in Missouri, get gritty guys, hard-nosed defenders. In Fuller you have a nationwide recruiter, and in Fulford, you have another nationwide recruiter."

Anderson agreed to a five-year deal at Missouri in June, giving him time to exert his influence on the program. But as Connelly said, "the short term does matter." In his first year, Anderson will be leading a Missouri program that missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

The Tigers lost juniors Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who both declared for the NBA Draft. The team's only other consistent performer, Earnest Ross, graduated.

Fuller said making the tournament this year is possible, even with a young team and a new coach.

"I will say this, there's a lot of factors that go into whether a team makes the tournament," Fuller said. "If we stay injury free, that's a real possibility. If our players take the next step in their development, that's a real possibility."

The joy and despair and hope and pessimism that came with Anderson's hire will stick around until the season starts. Now, two months into his tenure, all those emotions are still on the table.

"I don't want to be overly optimistic or pessimistic," Forde said. "I just look forward to seeing how it all plays out."

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.


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