Anderson needs no intro to Missouri’s top players

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Missouri Coach Frank Haith can thank Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson (pictured) for bringing Phil Pressey, the SEC’s preseason player of the year, to Missouri.
Missouri Coach Frank Haith can thank Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson (pictured) for bringing Phil Pressey, the SEC’s preseason player of the year, to Missouri.

— Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson signed the preseason SEC Player of the Year. Now he has to go against Phil Pressey twice this season.

Pressey is Missouri’s junior point guard from Dallas Episcopal High School who averaged 10.3 points but led the Big 12 Conference with averages of 6.4 assists and 2.1 steals last season.

Pressey signed with Missouri when Anderson was the Tigers’ coach.

Anderson’s Razorbacks and Pressey’s Tigers are SEC rivals beginning this season, with Missouri and Texas A&M moving from the Big 12. Arkansas and Missouri will play Feb. 16 at Fayetteville and March 5 at Columbia, Mo.

Anderson, an Arkansas assistant for 17 seasons from 1985-2002, left Missouri to become the Razorbacks’ head coach after the 2010-2011 season. But Anderson said he never imagined coaching against the Tigers or the players he recruited and coached.

“But at the same time, in the business that we’re in, you should never say never,” Anderson said Thursday at SEC basketball media day.

Missouri is counting on three players who were coached by Anderson — Pressey, senior guard Mike Dixon and senior forward Laurence Bowers. That connection figures to add significant interest when the Razorbacks and Tigers meet this season.

“I think more than anything else, the toughest thing for me when those days come will probably be the emotion of playing against your own kids,” Anderson said. “Those kids are still a part of my family.”

Frank Haith, who replaced Anderson at Missouri and led the Tigers to a 30-5 record last season, praised the job Anderson did in rebuilding Missouri’s program.

Missouri was a combined 44-45 in the three seasons before Anderson’s arrival from Alabama-Birmingham for the 2006-2007 season. Anderson led the Tigers to a 111-57 record in five seasons, including NCAA Tournament appearances the final three seasons, highlighted by a 31-7 record and Elite Eight appearance in 2009.

“Mike came in here and did an unbelievable job getting the program back on stable footing, and he recruited very well,” Haith said. “There are a lot of people in Columbia who appreciate the job Mike did.”

Anderson said he has fond memories of what he and his assistants accomplished at Missouri in recruiting talented players who also are good people and represented the program well on and off the court.

“When I reflect about the things that we did, we left [Missouri] in pretty good shape,” Anderson said. “Our fans went home real happy a lot of nights. I think they’re proud of what took place in our program. We got the right kids in there.

“Missouri is in great shape now for the SEC. When we got there, it was not at that point. But we had good things that took place.”

Anderson returned to Columbia last spring to attend the graduation of six players he recruited to Missouri.

“One of the proudest moments I had was watching those guys walk across the stage,” Anderson said. “To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

Anderson said he considers every player he’s coached to be part of his family, but Phil Pressey is an exceptional case. Pressey is the son of Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Paul Pressey, Anderson’s close friend and former Tulsa teammate.

“I think Phil calls him ‘Uncle Mike,’ so that tells you how close they are, but that’s just part of it,” Haithe said. “I think Phil is more excited about playing in the SEC and he’s looking forward to the competition.

“Phil has a great feel for the game. He’s a selfless player, a true point guard. He affects the game without having to score a lot of points.”

Anderson said he’s excited for Pressey, 5-11 and 175 pounds, to be voted by the media as the SEC Player of the Year in a preseason poll.

“Obviously, Phil has got to go out now and play and prove it, but I think he’ll be up to that challenge,” Anderson said. “I think he’s one of the best point guards in the country.

“If there’s one word to describe him, it’s ‘winner.’ He knows how to get his team going and does whatever it takes to win. More than that, he’s a great, great kid.”

Haith said Pressey “took control of our team” last year and should be an even more effective point guard and stronger leader this season.

“He’s pretty doggone good — for a little guy,” Haith said laughing. “I remind him he’s a little guy.”

Anderson said he can recall seeing Pressey shooting baskets when he was a lot shorter than 5-11.

“The kid was pump-faking when he was 5 years old,” Anderson said. “Can you imagine that? I knew then he was going to be a pretty good basketball player.”

Sports, Pages 21 on 10/26/2012