At this time last year, men’s basketball coach Frank Haith was sitting behind a microphone at the Atlantic Coast Conference Media Day in a green and orange polo shirt talking to reporters about the turn-around he believed his Miami team would make after finishing at the bottom of the conference.
Yesterday, Haith had that very same calm and collected voice. This time he was inside the Sprint Center in Kansas City at the Big 12 Media Day, wearing a black and gold striped tie and talking about the Missouri men’s basketball team he inherited after being hired in April. He remained the same confident man talking about his new team.
“First of all, we’re really excited about the upcoming season,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good team. We’ve got good guards and a team that’s very capable of being very competitive in this league.”
Haith couldn’t avoid bringing up the loss of Laurence Bowers, the 6-foot 8-inch senior forward who was primed to be a force in the Tigers’ frontcourt this season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament earlier this month in practice.
“Losing Laurence Bowers obviously hurts our team,” Haith said. “But I will tell you that our guys have handled that very well. The one thing I will say about Laurence, which has been unbelievable, he's a tremendous leader, but he doesn't want people feeling sorry for him. I think his attitude and how he's handled this situation has been really good for the growth of our basketball team.”
Haith acknowledged that size was one area in which the team lacked. The Tigers finished ninth in the Big 12 Conference in rebounding last season. MU will look for players like 6-foot 8-inch senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe and 6-foot 9-inch senior center Steve Moore to have an increased impact on the team. But Haith said replacing Bowers would be a concerted effort.
“I think the one thing we tried to address with our team is it’s not just our front line that's going to have to pick it up,” he said. “It's got to be our guard play. It’s got to be our coaching.”
The staff has a loaded arsenal of veteran guards, starting with Preseason all-Big 12 Team choice senior Marcus Denmon. Junior Michael Dixon, a player whom Haith has praised for his play-making ability, and sophomore Phil Pressey, a stand-out freshman for the Tigers last season, are expected to share point guard duties.
Haith said he was excited to unite with senior Kim English after losing the sweepstakes on the 6-foot 6-inch guard when he was recruiting at Miami.
“I’m really excited having the opportunity to coach Kimmie,” Haith said. “I loved him as a player. I wouldn't tell (former MU coach) Mike Anderson this, but I think we probably would have got him. So we had a really good relationship with him.”
English hasn’t shied away from talking about his feelings surrounding last year, when he averaged 10 points and two assists per game as his team finished with a conference record of 8-8 and ninth in league standings.
“It was the most disappointing, sad, frustrating, mad, upsetting, losing year of my life,” English said. “I played the worst basketball I've ever played. I just kind of had to get away from the game after the season and forget about it. I really had to focus on the now. My mind is as clear as it's ever been.”
English said he looks forward to the season alongside Haith.
“Coach Haith had some tough years at Miami,” he said. “He had a couple good players at Miami, but he has never had an allotment of really talented guys like what is here. I just look at him in workouts sometimes and he's just trying stuff with different guys. He is like a scientist, and we are his experiments, his lab rats. He's trying stuff with us and loving it."