Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — When the Missouri men’s basketball team lost by 20 points at home Jan. 31, the game was followed by an in-house airing of grievances and a noticeably disappointed Kim Anderson.
When Missouri did the same thing a week later, the first-year coach responded with a State of the Tigers address of sorts.
“We are going to have a basketball program that this university can be proud of,” Anderson said, “and there are certain things that you must be accountable for. And when you aren’t accountable, then there are consequences.”
Anderson didn’t seem quite as distressed after the loss, a 83-61 defeat to Texas A&M, as he did a week before, a 67-47 losing effort against Mississippi. His team had been at a disadvantage from tipoff against the Aggies, playing out of position and with a short bench. He was more concerned with the reason for that disadvantage.
Earlier that day, he had suspended freshman shooting guards Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright, the sixth and seventh of the 11 scholarship players on Missouri’s roster to be suspended this season. Freshman point guard Tramaine Isabell also missed the game, his third straight, for misbehaving toward teammates and coaches.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if we were 20-3 or 7-16, I would have done the same thing,” Anderson said of the suspensions. “We are going to do the right thing.”
Isabell will not be available today when the 7-16 Tigers play at 11-11 South Carolina (6 p.m., SEC Network), and Anderson said in a Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday he had not decided yet whether Gill-Caesar or Wright will return.
Anderson has emphasized his job is to teach as much as it is to coach, and the former takes priority, even if it comes at the expense of wins — though to blame all the Tigers’ losses on players out due to suspension would be misleading.
“We want to try to have guys that understand that this is a privilege and not a right and that they have the opportunity to play college basketball and they have an opportunity to get an eductaion and they have an opportunity to grow up as individuals,” Anderson said in the SEC teleconference. “… I think if you ask the other 13 coaches that have been on this call they would all say the same thing. They’re all teachers, and they’re trying to help these young men grow up, and if it means not winning games, which we aren’t, so be it, because we’re trying to build this over the long haul.”
Anderson talked Saturday about trying to instill some of the wisdom former Tigers coach Norm Stewart imparted when Anderson was a player at Missouri.
“Coach Stewart and I, we would have disagreements when I was playing,” Anderson said, “but I always remember one thing he told me. And that is that ‘When you get out of here with your degree … and you go away, I can’t wait for the day in five years when you call me on the phone and say, ‘You know what? Coach, you know what? You’re right. You’re right about some of this stuff.’’”
Anderson took fewer than five years to make that call to Stewart, and he said former players at Central Missouri, where Anderson won a Division II national title before returning to Missouri, have made the same call to him.
Stewart made his players shave every day, and Anderson said he’s had to give up on that battle — as well as getting players to ditch their earrings — but he still makes sure they take their hats off at the dinner table. Saturday, he implored post-game interviewees Wes Clark and Jakeenan Gant to sit up straight and enunciate.
“So we taught them something,” Anderson said. “That’s good. That’s common courtesy.”
But Anderson doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as old-school — Mizzou Arena’s pregame Hoosiers pump-up video notwithstanding.
“I think there’s a misconception there,” Anderson said Monday. “I’m not Norm Stewart, and I’m not anybody else but me. I wouldn’t say I’m an old-school coach, and the decisions I’ve made are decisions that I think are best for the basketball team. I don’t think it has anything to do with modern times and not-modern times.”
When hired in April, Anderson, hailed as a return to Missouri’s roots, emphasized “smart, disciplined, hard-nosed team basketball never goes out of style.”
“I would agree that you can’t coach perhaps the way that coaches did 20 or 25 years ago,” Anderson said. “But I still think that you have to have some discipline, and you’ve got to have some accountability, and if you don’t, then there are consequences. Because when you leave college, if you don’t have discipline and you don’t have accountability, then you get fired. That’s just kind of the way I look at it. Maybe that is old- school, but I don’t think so. I think that’s common sense.”
Whether Anderson’s mindset takes hold is yet to be determined. All five Missouri freshmen have missed games for disciplinary reasons this year, as have a sophomore and a junior, and the Tigers have won just one game in conference play and lost more than they won in non-conference.
With or without Gill-Caesar and Wright, Missouri will try to earn its second Southeastern Conference win tonight against the Gamecocks. South Carolina has won just two conference games — against Georgia, which Missouri has not played, and Alabama, which defeated the Tigers by 13 on Wednesday — and sits just above the Tigers in the SEC basement.
Missouri holds a 3-0 edge in the all-time series against South Carolina, which has lost its last two games.