For Kim Anderson, More Wins are the Only Option
It’s no real secret that Missouri basketball needs to get better. But there’s no one who knows that more than the man in charge of getting it done.
“I think we’ve probably got to win more games,” Kim Anderson deadpans. “What that number is, I don’t know.”
In Anderson’s first two years, the Tigers had won only 19 games. They had lost 44. The regular seasons have been a mixture of troubles on and off the court, and the off seasons have been a revolving door — players leaving the program to be replaced by new, hopeful faces. In Anderson’s third year, all he knows is that it’s time to end the cycle.
“We have to be able to be competitive, more competitive in games — in every game,” says the Sedalia, Missouri native, who knows the reality. “You lose to Kentucky by 100 and you lose to Arkansas at home. We have to make significant improvements from both offensive and defensive standpoints, and I think we have to change the culture of the program, which we’ve tried to do for two years.
“I think we’re getting there.”
If the Tigers are to make that leap, it will be on the backs of a four-man sophomore group that Anderson has lauded since it arrived on campus in the summer of 2015. Kevin Puryear, the team’s leading scorer as a freshman; Terrence Phillips, a dynamic if sometimes erratic point guard; K.J. Walton, a slashing guard who is looking to become a more balanced player; and Cullen Van Leer, a sharpshooter who never really found his shot as a freshman. It’s that group, along with senior big man Russell Woods, who will try to lead yet another fresh-faced, inexperienced roster of Tigers.
“I think the success of the culture of this program is on those guys,” Anderson says. “Those four guys — it’s important that they’re good.”
It’s Phillips whose optimism is lauded. “We have our core here for the next three years, and we’re going to turn this program around,” Phillips adds. “Every guy’s going to compete this year, and that’s just who we are.”
Woods is Missouri’s main man in the middle, at least to start the season, and he’s the only player listed at taller than 6 feet, 7 inches who has played a Division 1 game.
“Russ has made the most improvement on and off the floor of anybody,” Anderson says. “We need him to play and do the things that he can do — and that’s score around the basket, block some shots, play good defense, make the hustle plays.”
Woods will particularly need to be good early on, as the Tigers try to break in freshmen Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith. Nikko has been back in action since mid-September after having hip surgery following his senior season, and Smith, at 6 feet, 10 inches, needs to add lots of bulk and muscle to his frame.
Missouri also brought in a recruiting class headlined by a pair of high school teammates from Ohio, Frankie Hughes and Willie Jackson. Hughes is a combo guard who can score in clusters, while Jackson is a wing player who can guard any position but center.
“Playing defense is number one,” Jackson says. “I’m not the who came in as a scorer. I come in, they look for me to rebound and take my guy that I’m guarding, and basically give him hell. I’m not that ‘go to’ guy, but I can come off a screen, and I can make that open shot. I’ll be ready at all times.”
Along with Jackson, Missouri will await the ability of using fellow wing man Jordan Barnett. Barnett was a star at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis and signed with Rick Barnes and Texas. Midway through his second season in Austin, and after a coaching change, Barnett transferred back to his home state. He will be eligible at the start of the second semester, with his first game December 17 against Eastern Illinois.
“Jordan Barnett is a trump card,” Anderson says. “He’s played at the highest level, so he understands how hard you have to play when you start playing. The one thing I’ve been encouraging is that he needs to dominate practices. He needs to step up his game in practice because he has a tendency to hide sometimes. I’ve told him this: you should know that Jordan Barnett was at every practice.”
The Tigers opened the regular season on November 13, and have gone 3-3 since.
“We’re a lot further ahead this year than we were the last two years,” Anderson says. “I think it’s important that we start off and play well early and have a chance to win some games in the non-conference. Three or four games makes a difference, and it gives you the confidence [needed].”
Anderson says they have to avoid the long droughts that cost them games last year. “Can’t go 10 minutes without scoring; can’t go five games or six games without winning,” he says. “That’s the key. I’m excited about this group, and I think we’re headed in the right direction. Are there going to be ups and downs? Absolutely. There are with every team. Hopefully we’ve got enough experience that we don’t let the downs prolong themselves.”
Missouri will fight to move up the ladder in a wide-open Southeastern Conference. The league has taken its lumps over the past two years and could again this season.
“There are a lot of new players,” Anderson says. “I think there are a lot of teams that probably have question marks like we do. It will be a very competitive league, and I think it’s probably pretty wide open, at least at the beginning, with the exception of Kentucky.”
While the Tigers hope the results change, the goals never have.
“Your sophomore year is supposed to be a better year,” Phillips says. “If we win 25 games or whatever it is and make the tournament, I don’t care if I start. I just want to make the tournament, I want to win, I want to put people back in these seats.”
Photos: Travis Smith | ContentAllStars.com