Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Every Rebuilding Story Isn't a Fairy Tale

Much of the talk in the Big XII this season has been upon the Disney quality turnaround that is going on under Scott Drew down in Waco. He has managed to build Baylor up from the ashes and get that program into the top 25, for the first time since the Old Testament. He deserves every ounce of credit and recognition that he is receiving. Unfortunately, another, less publicized rebuilding story in the Big XII isn't going as well as planned.

Missouri head coach Mike Anderson was brought to Columbia after the 2006 season to rebuild the Tigers tainted program. While building a formidable program at UAB with his high full court pressure system, Missouri called on Anderson to not only get their program back to an NCAA caliber program, but to also clean up the mess created by Quin Snyder.

Under Snyder, Missouri had become a program that brought in questionable character, and had questionable discipline along with suspect NCAA compliance. Snyder did everything the wrong way, and it was quickly becoming unraveled around him. Anderson not only had to get the program back on a winning track, but he had to clean up a program that had quickly become a constant in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Anderson instituted a new zero tolerance policy in his first season, and had a successful year on and off the court. Off court issues were limited and the Tigers had a surprising 18-12 finish. Hoping to build off that success this year, the Tigers endured some ups and downs, but looked like they had turned a corner in a big 97-84 home win against the #13 Texas Longhorns. A few uninspired performances later it was obvious that Missouri hadn't turned the corner, but it was the off the court problems that was more disappointing for Missouri.

This past weekend, the team leader in scoring and assists, senior Stephon Hannah was hospitalized with a broken jaw after an altercation at a local night club. Hannah had been one of the bright spots this season averaging 28 minutes, 14.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3 rpg, and 1.9 spg. Losing him for the season will be a serious blow, but yesterday the other shoe dropped, as Anderson suspended all the players involved in the incident indefinitely. In doing so he has ended any hopes Missouri had of making the NIT this season. They will lose two starters and two reserves that make up 24.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.1 apg, and 1.2 spg. Not to mention losing 5 players out of their 9 man rotation. For Missouri, the season is over, and it is a waste.

However, Anderson should be applauded. The suspension isn't fair for the guys on the team that had something to play for. It's a shame. But he did what needed to be done. He sent a message that the old culture of Missouri will not fly. He said he will not stand for it, and he will win only if it means winning the right way. He made the hard decisions and in today's college landscape that is rarely seen. It is difficult for any coach to make monumental decisions that effect the result in the wins and loss column. He was brought to Missouri to win, and he has made a decision that will make that impossible.

But what he showed is integrity and a determination to accomplish his goals his way. Hopefully this season will not jeopardize his future with Missouri, because while Scott Drew will be hailed with national accolades throughout the month of March, Mike Anderson will be sitting at home, fighting to get Missouri back on the right track. But before he can get it back on the right track, he has to finish cleaning out the skeletons from the Quin Snyder era. He isn't there yet, but the fortitude he has shown in the past week leaves no doubt in my mind that he will get there. And one day, he will get recognized for his efforts. He's a coach of the year in my book. We need more like him in this game.

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