Quin Snyder is livid. His irritation echoes off the basketball court and resonates in the ears of every Missouri basketball player.
“Maybe this is why (college basketball analyst Dick Vitale) called this team soft,” Snyder said.
His team hasn’t lost a game, but Snyder warns it against taking it too easily in practice and giving media critics more to talk about. In his fifth year as the Tigers’ coach, Snyder isn’t fighting the criticism. He’s using it to inspire his team.
There was a time when the media’s perception bothered him, when people talked more about his hair than what the Tigers did on the court.
When Snyder came to Missouri in spring 1999, he had short, trim locks, but after he started to grow his hair longer, even longtime friends took flack for it.
Former Duke teammate Jay Bilas, a basketball commentator for ESPN, told Snyder his Missouri image was flawed. John Anderson, a SportsCenter anchor and Missouri alumnus, teased Snyder via Bilas.
“He said, ‘What is this Skippy Boy doing? Doesn’t he know that at Missouri we go crew cut and he’s got to wear black and gold?’” Snyder said. “He kept on me about the black and gold ties.”
Anderson and Snyder met when Anderson served as Missouri’s 2002 homecoming grand marshal. Anderson couldn’t resist the opportunity to give Snyder the gold tie he was wearing. Snyder wore it Dec. 14 as the Tigers topped Memphis 93-78.
“He took credit for our defense in the first half,” Snyder said. “He said it was his lucky tie.”
Snyder’s wardrobe has gravitated toward only gold ties, but he said last Christmas, when his first son, Owen, was born, was the most pivotal time in his adjustment to Columbia and being a head coach.
“Having a baby connected a lot of the dots,” Snyder said. “It’s neat to think that’s Columbia, Mo., on his birth certificate. That puts your ties at an even deeper level.”
Even though Snyder said he feels as comfortable now as he did his first day in Columbia, he said recent blunders in the profession of college coaching keep him cautious. Snyder said he hasn’t changed, but the negative scrutiny he has experienced with an ongoing NCAA investigation, has given people a chance to see a side he used to guard.
“Sometimes in adversity, you find out a little more about people,” he said. “Having to take some of these issues head on has maybe given people a better understanding of who I am, ass opposed to just the coach with the long hair or whatever they characterize me as, ‘slick.’”
As an associate head coach at Duke, Snyder recruited would-be NBA talents Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Shane Battier, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy. In his five years at Missouri, Snyder has renovated the program’s recruiting to attract the top high school recruits in the country.
Blue Ribbon hailed the Tigers’ 2003 recruiting class the best in the nation. Athlon ranked it fifth.
He is renowned for his scouting ability, but Snyder said player development is his priority.
Incoming players are evaluated in seven categories: footwork, ballhandling, passing, transitions, individual offense, team offense and defense.
Snyder’s goal is that every Missouri player leaves with optimal preparation all of these skills, even if that player has no intention of playing after college.
“We’ve got guys that I connect with on a level other than basketball,” Snyder said. “That makes it fun to coach, and obviously there have been times we’ve not recruited certain players to give ourselves an opportunity to have the kids in our program develop.”
Last year, Snyder and his staff had the chance to recruit Florida State freshman Tim Pickett. He was more interested in seeing shooting guard Josh Kroenke and Najeeb Echols mature.
Echols transferred, leaving Snyder with four go-to players, but he doesn’t regret it.
“I think some of those decisions go one way or the other,” he said. “I really like the group that we have as much as anything. It’s what makes this job rewarding.”
Snyder’s squad boasts four seniors: Kroenke, Rickey Paulding, Arthur Johnson and Travon Bryant. Snyder blends their experience blends with the talent of an acclaimed group of newcomers, a recipe he hopes cures the Tigers of patchy play in the Big 12 Conference and Final Four shortcomings.
Preseason predictions pit the Tigers at the top of the Big 12 and as one of the best teams in the country. Snyder said his team understands the difference between those expectations and being there.
“The more that we know there’s a bull’s-eye there and ignore kind of whatever rankings mean now, that’s the best way for us to realize some of that stuff when it really matters,” Snyder said.
Kroenke was part of Snyder’s first recruiting class with Kareem Rush and T.J. Soyoye. He redshirted his freshman year and, in his fifth year with Snyder, said this could be Snyder’s most efficient team.
“When we get out there and start practicing, the four seniors in particular, we know what (Snyder) wants before he can even get it out,” he said. “It eliminates a lot of the time in between drills. The players can help the players, and the coaches can help the guys who are trying to lead.”