After winning a program-record 27 regular season games and 14 Big 12 Conference games with seven scholarship players in his first year, the rewards were bound to come for Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith — even if it took a day longer than expected.
One day after Big 12 coaches passed on Haith in their selection of the league’s Coach of the Year award, the Associated Press recognized the Missouri coach with its annual honor Monday.
“I’m very honored and humbled by the honor,” Haith said at Monday’s media day. “It’s a blessing.”
The AP also recognized a majority of the players who have helped Missouri reach the No. 5 ranking it received in Monday’s AP and Coaches’ polls. Senior guard Marcus Denmon represented the Tigers on the first team, while senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe and sophomore point guard Phil Pressey received second team honors. Senior guard Kim English and junior guard Michael Dixon rounded out Missouri’s representation with honorable mention statuses.
The Big 12 itself recognized many of the same Tigers with its awards as voted on by the league’s coaches Sunday. Denmon, Ratliffe, English and Pressey received all-league status, while Dixon was the unanimous choice for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Haith was not to be seen on this list, much to the surprise of his players. The Big 12 instead selected Kansas’ Bill Self and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg as its Co-Coaches of the Year.
Haith said both were deserving candidates. Self took the Jayhawks to an eighth consecutive Big 12 championship this season. Hoiberg took the Cyclones from a last-place league finish in 2011 to third place in 2012, the highest year-to-year jump in Big 12 history.
English said he was “shocked” Haith didn’t receive the award.
“I expected one of the three to get it,” English said of Haith, Self and Hoiberg. “I didn’t expect two to get it and Coach Haith not to be one of them. He was 3-1 against those two. They were 2-2 and 1-3, respectively.”
English is well-versed in the Frank Haith story. He ran through the list of Haith’s challenges Monday, citing the preseason ACL tear of All-Big 12 forward Laurence Bowers that forced Haith to use just seven scholarship players. English referred to Haith’s ability to instantly change the culture and system of a senior-laden team that was “not in a good place” after last season’s 8-8 Big 12 campaign.
He wasn’t the only player surprised with the coaches' decision.
“From day one he got us all together and got the chemistry right where it needed to be,” Pressey said of his coach. “From the start we all knew what he wanted, which was to win, so we bought on pretty fast. I feel he’s the coach of the year, but I guess it’s up to everybody else to decide that.”
Haith, who joked he always thought the media was smarter than the coaches, attributed the award to those players for buying into his system from the start en route to a program-record 27 wins — wins that aren’t decided upon by a group of coaches or media members.
“I take the wins,” Haith said. “I want to win. Those honors don’t mean anything. Just win basketball games. That’s what’s most important.”