In May, ESPN Insider Jeff Goodman dished out grades for every new hire in Division I college basketball. Zero games into Missouri coach Kim Anderson’s tenure, Goodman is already asking for a redo on the Tigers’ new hoops CEO.
“If I was grading him again, I think I’d give him a B,” said Goodman, who originally gave Missouri a C-minus for signing the 58-year-old virgin of Division I head coaching.
What’s changed? Anderson’s staff.
After retaining assistant coach Tim Fuller— an accomplished recruiter who also provided stability during the transition from the abruptly ended Frank Haith era — Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford on June 23. That move paid handsome dividends Saturday, when Huntington Prep's Montaque Gill-Caesar signed with Missouri.
The prized swingman headlines a group of five promising freshmen joining the Tigers.
“No way they get that kid without him (Fulford). Zero chance,” Goodman said.
“I just think it’s so underrated, assistant coaches. They can really make or break you.”
With Fulford and Fuller collecting ammunition, Anderson’s biggest perceived weakness has been turned on its head. The former Division II coach who supposedly couldn’t recruit at this level is adjusting just fine at the adult table.
After the signing of Gill-Caesar, Missouri’s incoming freshman class is ranked 14th in the nation, according to 247Sports.com. Haith’s classes at Missouri ranked 18th in 2013, 65th in 2012 and didn’t register a ranking in 2011, when the only two newcomers were transfers.
Anderson vows to not rely so heavily on transfers. With the help of his well-connected staff, he could land some highly coveted rookies.
The old guard Missouri fans toasted the hiring of Anderson, a "True Son" who starred on the Hearnes Center court under Norm Stewart in the 1970s.
But can he connect to the young players of this generation? That — and its link to recruiting — seemed to be the issue that dampened any excitement about Anderson to the social media crowd.
Anderson is twice the personality of Haith, with none of the shadiness. He may be too old for Columbia's nightlife, but Anderson seems to connect with people. You could see it at his introductory press conference last spring, when he commanded the room with humor and passion. He balances confidence with self-deprecation and seems honest enough to trust with your car keys.
The old man is even affable on Twitter, posting photos and team updates and happy birthday wishes to prominent MU figures. Don’t think that’s irrelevant to teenage recruits, whose heads, when not above the rim, are buried in their smartphones.
Missouri hopes Anderson can also connect better with his established players. Goodman said that guard Jordan Clarkson, who entered the draft after his junior season, didn’t trust Haith to help progress his career.
“I know Jordan Clarkson didn’t want to play for him (Haith),” Goodman said. “He felt like he held him back in the second half of the year.”
Goodman, who spent some time with Anderson on the recruiting trail in July, said the new Missouri coach has “unbelievably high character.”
“I’ve never heard a bad word about him.”
The worst thing anybody notable has ever said of Anderson might be this:
“I love the fact that he's a high-character guy, a good X's and O's guy, and one of Mizzou's own -- and I'm fine for hiring him at 48 years of age, but not 58. The only aspect that could change this grade is if Anderson grabs another big-time recruiter to go along with holdover Tim Fuller because he hasn't been an assistant in the Division I ranks for 15 years and it's going to take time for him to get up to speed. By then, he might just be collecting Social Security.”
That, of course, was Jeff Goodman less than three months ago. The passage was punctuated with “Grade: C-”
Of the 38 new hires this offseason, only one received a grade lower than Anderson’s C-minus from Goodman. In 2013, when Goodman wrote the same column for CBS Sports.com, just one coach registered a C-minus, with none faring worse. Goodman, clearly, was uninspired by the hire.
But Anderson has shown enough self-awareness to mask his potential shortcomings. He surrounded himself with talent-hoarding recruiters, signed coveted players as a result, and is now providing hope for a successful rebuilding process. Apparently he's completed enough extra credit to bump his C-minus to a B.
Nobody will remember Goodman's grade when the super-young Tigers tip off what figures to be an uphill 2014-15 season. The ultimate measure of Anderson's tenure, of course, will be his record. But perception matters in college basketball — where fans, recruits and school administrators all influence a coach's success.
Anderson still hasn’t won a game for the Tigers, but he’s quickly winning over public opinion.