Kim Anderson is ready

“I’m looking forward to coaching these guys more than I am talking about it," he said.
Missouri Tigers head coach Kim Anderson poses for a portrait Oct. 1 at Mizzou Arena.

Kim Anderson is ready.

He’s ready for the challenge of coaching a basketball team in the Southeastern Conference. He’s ready to make changes to a team filled with off-court controversies. He’s ready to rebuild a once prominent program back to its prestige.

Anderson is ready to make Missouri basketball a powerhouse.

On April 29, it was announced that Anderson would take over as head coach at his alma mater. His summer consisted of interviews and recruiting trips, but now, six months later, he’s finally ready to do what he came here for: coaching.

“It’s been great to be able to see so many people and to talk about Missouri basketball,” Anderson said. “But I’m looking forward to coaching these guys more than I am talking about it."

Homegrown

Anderson grew up in Sedalia, a town 70 miles southwest of Columbia. After a successful high school career, the towering, 6-feet-7-inch young man went on to play basketball for Missouri, where he racked up 1,289 career points and led Mizzou to its first ever Big Eight Conference championship as a junior in 1976.

Anderson was the Big Eight’s “Player of the Year” his senior season and went on to be an NBA second-round draft pick of the Portland Trailblazers. Following a short professional career, Anderson found himself back in Columbia, serving as a coach under Norm Stewart. He jumped around between Baylor and Missouri as an assistant until he got his first head coaching job at Central Missouri in 2003.

There, he took the reins of a strong Division II school and made it a powerhouse. Compiling an overall record of 274-94, Anderson stressed the importance of defense and led his 2013 team to a Division II national championship.

But even after 12 years at UCM, there’s only one place Anderson calls home.

Columbia.

His emotions were evident at his introductory press conference in April. A glisten in his eye said it all.

“Thanks for bringing me home.”

A Players’ Coach

His life was a whirlwind following his hiring at the university. Buy a house. Settle in. Oh, and start coaching a Southeastern Conference basketball team. New jobs come with transitions, and those transitions aren’t made easier when you’re immediately judged by 18-22 year-old college athletes, including some who didn’t even sign up to play for you.

“I think there was some apprehension (to me coming in), and I don’t blame them,” Anderson said. “I don’t blame them for being apprehensive, and I told them that upfront.”

Six months in, and players say that apprehension has begun to wear off. As the players warm up to Anderson, his attitude may be rubbing off on them. His success at Central Missouri can be attributed to his passion, according to Sean O’Brien, a sophomore who played under Anderson at UCM. Anderson was a college athlete and that burning competitiveness is still inside him, and it drives his players.

“You know how much he wants it,” O’Brien said. “He’s a very intense guy in practice and you feed off that energy.”

Practices aren’t always easy, and no Anderson practice would be complete without a healthy amount of yelling and an appropriate number of blistering whistle blows. But still, O’Brien said Anderson has the ability to take the most mundane parts of practices and turn them into something fun.

“There were never drills,” O’Brien said. “There were always competitions, and he made that clear.”

From day one, Anderson made his message clear: Defense comes first. It may not be as fun to play or practice as offense, but defensive-minded teams worked for Anderson at Central Missouri.

“Defense wins championships,” senior Keanau Post said. “And now it’s not just coach saying that, it’s everybody.”

Last season, Anderson’s UCM squad ranked in the top 50 nationally in points allowed per game (68.5), overall field-goal defense (41.2 percent), three-point FG defense (32.4 percent) and defensive rebounds (902).

Anderson makes his living on defense-first basketball. It’s what won him a Division II national championship last year. It’s what won him 274 career games at UCM, en route to building a dynasty. It’s what won him this job.

The Tigers ranked 164th nationally in points allowed (69.7) a season ago, not exactly a stellar statistic. Missouri also ranked just 295th in the country with five steals per game.

“Defense wins championships,” senior Keanau Post said. “And now it’s not just coach saying that, it’s everybody.”

Anderson has won everywhere he’s coached. During both tenures as an assistant at Missouri, the Tigers finished under .500 just once in eleven seasons. As a head coach at Central Missouri, Anderson boasted a .745 career winning percentage.

“It’s easy to play hard for him,” O’Brien said of Anderson. “It’s not easy to play defense, but when you want to play hard for him, that’s easier.”

He’s a players’ coach. He was a student athlete himself at Missouri. He’s been in all these players’ shoes — even if it was decades ago.

“He’s been there,” O’Brien said. “He knows what its like to be a college athlete. He’d get on you and all that, but he was fun to play for.”

A Makeover

There’s just something about that deep, silky smooth voice — slow and firm as tar. A coach’s voice. That cavernous voice is what convinced four-star freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar to come to Missouri, signing so late that he almost enrolled in his senior year of high school before committing. Anderson convinced the small forward to graduate early, come to Missouri and build a dynasty.

“He gave me the breakdown on what he wants to do with this entire program and image of Missouri basketball,” Gill-Caesar said. “What he was saying, I was very comfortable with. I have the same goals.”

Anderson’s hiring of assistant coach Rob Fulford, who was Gill-Caesar’s head coach at basketball powerhouse Huntington Prep, also impacted the freshman’s decision to come to Missouri.

Landing future recruits from the school that has produced marquee Division I players, including recent No. 1 NBA Draft pick Andrew Wiggins, could aid in Anderson’s goal of turning this program around.

The Tigers didn’t make the NCAA tournament last year under head coach Frank Haith. They haven’t won a March Madness game since 2010, and the year they had a great chance of making the Final Four in 2012 as a 2-seed, 15-seed Norfolk State shocked the Tigers in an opening-round upset.

A makeover is overdue.

“He gave me the breakdown on what he wants to do with this entire program and image of Missouri basketball,” Gill-Caesar said. “What he was saying, I was very comfortable with. I have the same goals.”

Everywhere Gill-Caesar goes, people ask him if Missouri will even be good this year. After his late decision to play for the Tigers, eyebrows rose and skeptics did not keep their silence.

“We’ve never won an NCAA championship,” Gill-Caesar said. And he wants to change that.

A national championship is a lofty goal. Two or three years down the road, with some possible big-name recruits coming in, it may be reachable. But for now — this year –— it won’t be all fun and games. Missouri won’t be a 2-seed; many experts don’t expect the Tigers to make the NCAA Tournament.

He’s Ready

It’s safe to say Anderson and his Tigers will take their fair share of lumps. Those lumps might come sooner rather than later, too: Missouri’s non-conference schedule is its most difficult in recent memory. The Tigers play 2014 Elite Eight team Arizona in Maui, Hawaii, and also face Oklahoma, Xavier, Illinois and Oklahoma State, all before conference play begins.

“There are some challenges ahead and we’re going to have to do some things,” Anderson said. “But hopefully as the year goes on, we’re going to get better, but the idea is to build the program over a period of time.”

Anderson is ready to turn Missouri basketball around. It’s been 37 years since he last pulled the black and gold jersey over his head, but the same fiery youth will be standing on the sideline this winter. His hair may be a little grayer. His knees may not be as strong. His jump shot may be a bit rusty. But he’s ready.

Anderson is a Tiger once again.

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