ST. LOUIS — Talk about making chicken salad from chicken slop. Just look at all those to benefit from the turmoil that had infiltrated Missouri’s basketball program over the past two months.
Frank Haith, his job security waning in Columbia, scores a seven-year contract at Tulsa with a pay raise.
Kim Anderson, shunned twice for his dream job, finally lands his dream job and, with it, a seven-figure income. No matter how many national titles one wins in Warrensburg, million-dollar salaries are not part of the D-II lifestyle.
Mike Alden, suddenly freed of Haith, is applauded across the state for bringing home a native son.
Tim Fuller, known mainly in recruiting circles, emerges as a coaching star on the rise. Other assistants follow Haith to Tulsa, some stay and at least one from Central Missouri joins Anderson. Pay raises and perks typically follow such changes.
There have been so many good vibes emanating from Columbia over the coaching change that it’s easy to overlook what matters: assembling a team that will succeed on the court and not embarrass the university off of it.
Good luck with that next season. The Tigers not only are losing their three best players, none of the returners appears ready to step in and take over.
Johnathan Williams III is the leading returning scorer, and he averaged 5.8 points. St. Louisan Ryan Rosburg is the other starter coming back, and he averaged 4.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and, it often seemed, four fouls. The only other returner to average 20 minutes a game was backup point guard Wes Clark, who made enough mistakes that you didn’t need to look at the roster to know he was a freshman.
Experience won’t be a strength. Neither will scoring, and who knows about defense?
But enough of this downer talk. It’s May, half a year before the first game, and far too early to write off next season. Maybe this is no more than being caught up in this week’s giddiness, but a case can be made that next season might not be as disappointing as this past one.
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Start with the coaching change. Anderson says the priority will be defense, and on defense talent isn’t as important as effort. Anderson can make a difference there.
Factor in the conference. The SEC hardly is the Big 12 in basketball. There’s Kentucky and Florida and there’s everyone else. Not much separates everyone else.
Now look at the newcomers. The Tigers will welcome two transfers, Deuce Bello and St. Louisan Cam Biedscheid. Not so long ago, Bello was considered by some a better pro prospect than Jabari Brown. A 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Bello was a bit player in his two seasons at Baylor but he told me in February how much he had benefited from a year of going against Brown and Jordan Clarkson in practice and pickup.
Bello figures to take over for Brown at shooting guard, in part because Biedscheid won’t be eligible until the semester break. A 6-7 swingman, Biedscheid averaged 6.2 points and 17 minutes in his freshman season at Notre Dame but decided to transfer halfway through his second year.
Clark and Shane Rector are the front-runners to share the point, appropriate enough considering they were sharing something else that led to suspensions before the Tigers’ two-game stay in the NIT. At times, Clark contributed on both ends of the floor, but he will need to be the team’s most improved player for Missouri to have a real chance at a winning season.
On the inside, the Tigers will look to Williams to take a huge step forward. He started every game as a freshman but often was overmatched in SEC play. Being a year older and stronger should cut down on the number of close shots he had blocked, but unless he improves his outside shooting, he will be hard-pressed to average double figures.
The other returning bigs — Rosburg, Keanau Post and Torren Jones — held their own on defense most nights but contributed little on offense. They can say that was because they rarely saw the ball in an offense dominated by the big three of Brown, Clarkson and guard Earnest Ross. The big three can say they didn’t pass inside because little good happened when they did.
Perhaps the best news to follow Anderson’s hiring was that top recruit JaKeenan Gant would honor his commitment. Gant, a 6-8 forward, was the Player of the Year in Georgia and likely would have left if Anderson had not kept Fuller on board. Fuller said on a Kansas City radio station Friday morning that, shortly after learning he would be staying with Missouri, he called Gant. As soon as he said he was staying, Gant said he would be coming to Columbia.
Fuller also said Anderson is meeting this weekend with Namon Wright, a 6-5 guard out of Los Angeles who committed to Missouri last fall. According to Fuller, Wright has not made a final decision on joining the Tigers.
Anderson has three other scholarships to give out for next year but, at this stage, odds are against finding a difference-maker. The Tigers reportedly are looking at 6-4 shooting guard Kevin Punter, a sophomore from State Fair Community College who was named a junior college first-team All-American. Former Tiger Ricky Kreklow, who spent the past two seasons at Cal, mostly injured, could transfer back to Missouri without having to sit out if he graduates this summer, as is expected.
With so much uncertain, it’s difficult to envision how this group could come together. But outside of the brand-name schools, the talent level from one school is not that great these days in college basketball. That’s why coaching makes such a difference.
Missouri has enough talent for Anderson to mold into a winner. If he does, there really will be some happy talk.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.