Missouri starting over with Frank Haith at helm
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP)
First, Frank Haith was the mystery backup plan. Then he became the sketchy hire. Now, he's the coach making do with less at Missouri.
Haith is getting ready for his first season at Missouri after an offseason filled with questions. He was identified in a Yahoo Sports investigation into scandal at the University of Miami, where he was the basketball coach before he was hired by the Tigers.
And now he is short-handed before his first game at his new job, with forward Laurence Bowers out for the season with a knee injury. Haith insists nothing has changed in his expectation to contend for a Big 12 championship.
''Losing Laurence Bowers obviously hurts our team,'' Haith said. ''But I will tell you that our guys have handled that very well.''
Players say they haven't lost faith in the coach Missouri turned to after Purdue's Matt Painter said no.
''We were never the all-airport team,'' senior guard Kim English said. ''You know, the big tall guys you see walking around the airport, we were never that. But the mission doesn't change.''
Missouri ran end-to-end for five seasons under Mike Anderson, pressing constantly and averaging 22 victories. The Tigers lost to Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA tournament last spring and made an appearance in the Elite Eight in 2009, and Anderson parlayed that success by jumping to Arkansas.
Minus Bowers and down to eight scholarship players, Haith wants to run, too. He can envision scenarios when he has four guards on the floor at the same time, although he plans on less full-court pressure to avoid foul problems.
Senior Marcus Denmon was an all-Big 12 guard last season, emerging as a leader and averaging 16.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals. He's at the top of an experienced core of holdovers that includes fellow guards English and Michael Dixon and forward Ricardo Ratliffe.
English said that even without Bowers, Haith has never had such talent.
''He had a couple good players at Miami, but he has never had an allotment of really talented guys like what is here,'' English said. ''I just look at him in workouts sometimes and he's just trying stuff with different guys, `Let me put you here. Let me see Marcus here. Let me see Mike right here.' He's like a scientist and we are his experiments, his lab rats.''
Sophomore Phil Pressey and Dixon will likely share point guard. Redshirt freshman Kadeem Green, healthy after missing a year due to injury, and junior transfer Earnest Ross could help fill the void on the front line.
''Of course it's a huge impact with Lawrence being one of our senior leaders,'' Denmon said. ''Being that it happened early, we have time to be able to work on the things we need to work on.''
Denmon was the team's top 3-point shooter, making 82 with 45 percent accuracy, and was among the Big 12 leaders in several categories. He shot 50 percent overall and topped 20 points a dozen times. English was inconsistent and had a big drop in production last season with his 10-point average down four points from his sophomore season, and shot just 37 percent. He didn't start in four games.
''I could write a book about last year. My mind was everywhere,'' English said. ''It was the most disappointing, sad, frustrating, mad, upsetting, losing year of my life. I played the worst basketball I've ever played.''
English said getting away from the sport for a while after the season allowed him to approach his senior with a fresh outlook.
''I really had to focus on the now,'' English said. ''My mind is as clear as it's ever been.''
Ratliffe was the junior college player of the year before transferring to Missouri, and thought his first season was a bit of a learning experience. Bowers predicts a breakout season.
''I felt last year he came in with a lot of expectation, a lot of hype, being a JUCO All-American,'' Bowers said. ''He had a pretty good season but I just know how good of a player he is. I'm expecting him to have a big-time year.''
Missouri opens Sunday at the One State, One Spirit Classic at Missouri Southern.
As for the controversy, Haith has kept mostly quite.
He spent seven years at Miami before he was hired by Missouri in April. After he was hired, Yahoo Sports released a sweeping investigation into alleged corruption in the Hurricanes athletics programs, citing information from booster Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi schemer.
Shapiro claimed he paid then-Hurricanes recruit DeQuan Jones $10,000 to attend the school with Haith's approval. The report by Yahoo Sports includes two photographs of Shapiro with Haith - one at a Miami Beach restaurant and the other showing the pair with Miami president Donna Shalala at a bowling alley accepting what Shapiro said was a $50,000 donation to the school's basketball program. The website also obtained telephone records showing 85 calls or text messages between the two over a five-year period
In a school-issued statement, Haith pledged to cooperate with the NCAA.''The reports questioning my personal interactions with Mr. Shapiro are not an accurate portrayal of my character,'' Haith said then.
At Big 12 media day, he said only the controversy has not hurt his Missouri recruiting and insists his players have not even asked about Miami.
''Nothing. Not at all,'' he said. ''We've got great kids.''