Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Engaging in family feud
Tigers Pressey, Bowers still ‘sons’ to Razorbacks coach
Mike Anderson will face Missouri for the first time since leaving the Tigers to coach Arkansas following the 2011 season.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson refers to SEC games as playing family, but that will take on a more personal meaning when the Razorbacks face Missouri today in Walton Arena.
Anderson coached Missouri for five seasons before being hired at Arkansas on March 23, 2011, and the Tigers are led by junior point guard Phil Pressey and senior forward Laurence Bowers, two players he recruited and coached.
Pressey is the son of Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Paul Pressey, Anderson’s teammate at Tulsa who has become his best friend. Bowers is the nephew of Arlyn Bowers, a guard at Arkansas during Anderson’s 17-year tenure as Nolan Richardson’s assistant coach.
“It will be kind of emotional because those guys are like my sons,” Anderson said. “They are my sons. I’m big on family with our players. Whether they like it or not, they’re going to be family for life.”
Arkansas (15-9, 5-4 SEC) vs. Missouri (18-6, 7-4)
WHEN: 3:05 p.m.
WHERE: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
SERIES: Arkansas leads 19-18
LAST MEETING: Arkansas defeated Missouri 94-91 on Nov. 28, 2007 in Fayetteville
Anderson returned to Columbia, Mo., last spring to see six of his former players graduate, including Bowers, who redshirted last season because of a knee injury.
“It will be weird playing against my old coach,” said Bowers, adding that it also will be fun to face Anderson and his assistants, including T.J. Cleveland.
“He texts me and checks on me because we go way back before Mizzou basketball, so I keep in touch with him and Coach Cleveland, but on Saturday they’re enemies,” Bowers said. “Emotions are going to be high, especially for Phil and myself, but we’ll treat it like every other game.
“Me and Phil aren’t going to try to do anything out of character. We’re going to try to get a win.”
Pressey grew up calling Anderson “Uncle Mike” and followed his older brother, Matt, a senior last season, to Missouri.
“I’m blessed that he brought us here,” Pressey said. “Everything happened for a reason and I’m glad we’ve got this team now.”
Pressey is averaging 12.2 points and an SEC-leading 7.0 assists per game.
“I think with Phil you’ve got the best point guard in the country. Obviously, I recruited him so I’ve got to say that,” Anderson said, smiling. “But I think he’s showing people he’s one of the better point guards in the country.”
Pressey is Missouri’s lone returning starter from last season’s 30-5 team, but he has plenty of players to distribute the ball to with the return of Bowers and addition of several transfers, including Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (Connecticut) and Earnest Ross (Auburn).
“They spread you out and let Phil do his magic,and they’ve got guys that can knock shots down,” Anderson said. “Of course, Phil can dominate a game without even scoring. He’s got eyes in the back of his head. I mean, he goes one way and passes it back the other way.”
Bowers is averaging 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“He’s one of those guys that can go inside and outside,” Anderson said. “He’s sneaky athletic. Just real clever, and an instinctive player. He can block shots and just has a nose for the basketball, and can pass, and now he’s worked to shoot the basketball, too, and they’re letting him shoot it.”
Tigers Coach Frank Haith, who was at Miami for seven seasons, said Anderson was encouraging to him about the Missouri job, praising the administration, players and fans.
“He was very complimentary about the type of job it was, the support we have here,” Haith said.
Anderson said Haith has done “a tremendous job” with the Tigers, noting Missouri is 18-6 after losing its top four scorers from last season.
“They’re still one of the top teams in the country,” Anderson said. “That’s a tribute to what he’s done.”
Razorbacks assistant coach Matt Zimmerman said it was “bittersweet” for Anderson and the staff to leave Missouri, especially the players.
“Coach loved coaching Missouri, and we felt we really had it going there, but Arkansas is home,” Zimmerman said. “We’re obviously super happy and proud to come home, but Missouri was a tough place to leave. Everybody was great to us while we were there.”
Arkansas assistant coach Melvin Watkins has a sense for what Anderson will be feeling today because Watkins faced his former Texas A&M players as a Missouri assistant.
“When you first see the guys, you smile and shake hands, but after that it’s business at hand,” Watkins said. “You want to do what you normally do on game day, and I think Coach Anderson will be in that mode.
“They’re going to give you their best, and that’s what good players do. We expect that, and we’d probably be disappointed if we got anything less than that. But at the same time, we’re going to try and give them our best as well.”
Today’s game also carries extra meaning for Arkansas sophomore guard BJ Young, who is from St. Louis and will be playing his home state team for the first time.
“It’s going to be a big game for me and Coach Anderson,” Young said. “It’s like a hometown rivalry-type thing.
“We want to take advantage of our opportunities and come out here and show them that we’re building something nice down here at Arkansas.”
Information for this article contributed by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Sports, Pages 19 on 02/16/2013