Haith making himself known in new state

Missouri's new coach is out to turn skeptical fans into strong supporters.

Men's basketball coach Frank Haith speaks to the media and members of the MU administration April 5 at Mizzou Arena. Haith plans to change the Tigers' famous up-tempo offense to a half-court style offense. Maneater File Photo

Days after an EF-5 tornado devastated the town of Joplin, killing 162 people and destroying roughly 30 percent of the town's infrastructure, first-year Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith assisted in the relief effort.

Haith, a native of Queens, N.Y., who had no prior ties to the Show-Me State, delivered goods as part of the United Way's United for Joplin campaign for the tornado-ravaged town.

His personal contributions to the recovery effort in Joplin did not stop there. Haith played an integral role in organizing last month's One State, One Spirit Classic exhibition game in Joplin against Missouri Southern, an event that raised more than $100,000 in tornado relief funds.

"(Haith) came here with no prior connections to the state," senior guard Kim English said after the exhibition. "To have the idea to bring his team to a nationally-ranked Division II team's floor and raise money is a testament to his character."

After seven years coaching at Miami, Haith came to Missouri amid controversy. Missouri had just been publicly rebuked by Purdue coach Matt Painter after reports surfaced that Painter-to-MU was a done deal.

Fans were hoping for a big-name hire, and the appointment of Haith did not go over well.

In seven years at the helm for the Hurricanes, Haith's teams were 43-69 in ACC play and 129-101 overall. The 2007-08 season was the only one in which Haith led Miami to the NCAA Tournament, where it lost in the second round. The Hurricanes participated in the NIT on four occasions under Haith.

"When I was hired I'm not sure people knew much about me," Haith said back in July. "A big part of my job was to reach out and get to know the people of this state and allow them to get to know me. I needed to show them what we are all about."

With two regular season and three exhibition games under their belt, the process of assimilating to Haith's style is well underway.

When asked to describe his coach's demeanor on the sidelines, junior guard Michael Dixon needed just one word to sum it up: enthusiastic.

Before becoming coach at Miami, Haith worked as an assistant under Rick Barnes at Texas from 2001 to 2003. It was during that time Haith received his first sense of the passion the community has for MU basketball, something that has been confirmed since coming to MU.

"Being here in this community, it's been pretty obvious to me that this is important to the community and that's exciting for me, real exciting," Haith said. "I know that there's a tremendous attachment to the community and our basketball program."

In addition to his role in rebuilding Joplin, Haith has thrown out the first pitch at a Cardinals game, toured the state meeting with MU supporters and recently held a clinic for kids at Mizzou Arena.

The two-hour clinic, held Nov. 5, featured 179 elementary-age participants and was conducted by Haith, members of his coaching staff and Tiger players.

"I can't tell you how many times the parents talked about our players and being connected with our players," Haith said. "That's tremendous, and being in a community like that, it's a blessing for me."

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