Anderson wants to build his team the ‘right way’

Anderson: “Can I teach these guys? I don’t know. But I’m damn sure going to try.”

Kim Anderson’s Missouri Tigers have lost eight straight games and currently ride the program’s worst losing streak in over 40 years. At 1-9 in Southeastern Conference play, the Tigers sit in last place.

And that’s not even the most disappointing part.

The first-year coach suspended freshman guards Namon Wright and Montaque Gill-Caesar this past weekend for a violation of team rules. Freshman Tramaine Isabell has also been withheld from competition for attitude issues, tallying the number of the team’s suspensions to seven on the season.

All five freshmen are on that list. The only scholarship players who have not been disciplined are Keanau Post, Ryan Rosburg, Johnathan Williams III and Keith Shamburger.

Missouri’s recent results have been bad, but the team’s discipline has been worse.

“It’s really disappointing as a coach,” Anderson said after falling to Texas A&M on Feb. 7. “Part of our jobs as coaches is to obviously win basketball games, but part of our job is to help these guys grow up and help them understand.”

Anderson said he’s more than a coach; he’s a teacher. The gray-haired coach has stood on the sidelines for more than 30 years as both an assistant and head coach. Twelve of those were spent under Norm Stewart, a man Anderson still looks up to.

He talks about Stewart often, and you can hear the admiration in his voice every time he talks about something “Coach” said or made him do. Like when Anderson was a grizzly student-athlete at Missouri and Stewart even controlled his hygiene.

“Coach made me shave every day,” Anderson said, with that sense of nostalgia that often comes out when talking about his mentor. “That’s hard for a college student.”

Anderson doesn’t make his players shave every morning — Isabell’s suspension has nothing to do with the goatee he wears. He says it’s the simple things that he makes his players do. No hats during mealtime. Sit up straight in press conferences. Enunciate your words.

Over the years, he’s learned what works and what doesn’t. Don’t mess with the facial hair and don’t mess with the bling.

“I fought earrings at Central Missouri for two years,” Anderson said. “And I said, ‘This ain’t worth it.’ You’ve got to pick your spots.”

Saturday’s suspensions likely have nothing to do with wearing a hat during dinner. Bigger issues have come to play.

Anderson has benched and suspended players throughout the whole season, but the record doesn’t determine how he disciplines his guys. Anderson said he isn’t willing to give up his team’s and the university’s integrity in order to win games.

The Tigers’ 7-16 record is an indication of that.

“There are certain things that you must be accountable for, and if you aren’t accountable, then there are consequences,” Anderson said. “It wouldn’t matter if we were 20-3 or 7-16. I would have done the same thing.”

Anderson has repeatedly stressed he’s not Norm Stewart, but he remembers one thing his old coach told him. After having countless arguments with the future Missouri coach, Stewart couldn’t wait for the day, five years down the road, when his telephone would ring.

On the end of the other line would be Anderson, admitting “Coach” was right all along.

Other SEC coaches have been vocal in support of Anderson’s coaching methods. Mississippi State’s Rick Ray knows what it’s like to struggle in conference play. His Bulldogs finished dead last a year ago, with a 3-15 conference record.

Much like Anderson, he inherited a young team when he came to the reins of the program in 2012, with six underclassmen in the lineup. The Bulldogs are far from an elite program, but at 11-12, they’re better off than they were just a few years ago. Ray said he sees the similarities between Anderson and himself.

“I don't think anyone doubts Kim Anderson's ability to coach basketball,” Ray said during an SEC basketball teleconference Monday afternoon.

Things haven’t gone his way in Anderson’s first year behind the bench at his alma mater. The dream job is tilting more towards a nightmare at the moment, but the 6-foot-7-inch coach doesn’t falter. He says he wants to build the program “the right way.”

It hasn’t been easy.

“Can I teach these guys?” Anderson said. “I don’t know. But I’m damn sure going to try.”

As Anderson was nearly finished with his postgame press conference Saturday night, a reporter chimed up.

“Did you call Stewart back five years later?”

The coach laughed.

“It was quicker than five years, believe me.”

In five years — or less — Anderson hopes to get a phone call of his own. The coach said it’s happened at Central Missouri, and by setting an example and giving his Missouri program integrity, he hopes it will happen here.

He’s expecting it. There are just four simple words that, for a current student-athlete, seem so hard to utter. Years later, Anderson would say it to Stewart, and it’s been said to him too.

“Coach, you were right.”

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