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  • March 25th, 2011

March Madness

By Joel M. Vance

It’s an old joke: “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?”
“How about twenty dollars?”
Indignantly: “What do you think I am ”
“We’ve already established what you are.  Now we’re negotiating price.”
For some reason that joke sprang full blown into my mind when the news came that Missouri basketball coach Mike Anderson was abandoning Missouri for Arkansas.  Had he not made repeated statements about how he wanted to retire at Mizzou, how money was not his first consideration, but developing an NCAA championship team, the joke would not have been so applicable.
He IS abandoning a team that he created and that has Final Four potential, assuming a rebounder or two signs on and the team comes out of the funk that plagued it for the last 10 games of the season.  And he’s doing it for money.
Anymore and all too often open checkbooks play a larger part in recruiting a winning coach than team loyalty.  Those coaches who stick it out with their chosen team tend also to be winners.  Think Mike Krzyzewski at Duke (who also happens to be the highest-paid basketball coach in the country) or Dean Smith at North Carolina…or Norm Stewart at Missouri.
Nobody should criticize someone who pines for a lost love.  Roy Williams had it all at Kansas, the school where basketball history began, but he pined for North Carolina and broke Jayhawk hearts when he left to go home.  Mike Anderson spent 17 years at Arkansas as an assistant to Nolan Richardson, and helped the Razorbacks win a national championship.  It should be a parallel situation.  Wish them well on their home turf.
If only Anderson hadn’t pledged eternal fealty to Mizzou……
Anderson’s departure will lead to inevitable coffee shop second-guessing and he won’t fare well.  His recruiting will be suspect.  After all, he had a front line supposedly anchored by junior college transfer Ricardo Ratliffe who was to be the new DeMarre Carroll, the anchor of the Missouri team that won a school record 31 games.
In fact, Ratliffe was a sometime presence and far from the dynamic, never-quit Carroll.  Remember that Anderson enticed Carroll, his nephew from Vanderbilt when he took over at Mizzou.  Now he has the Pressey brothers, Matt and Phil, playing for him….and they call him “Uncle Mike” since he and their father are former teammates, roommates and dear friends.  Will they follow him to Arkansas?  Whither the core of the seven returning players from this year’s team which had only one senior?
Missouri lacked the rangy junkyard dogs from the front line of other Big 12 teams who attack the offensive and defensive boards as if they own the backboards (which, all too often, they did against the undergunned Mizzou front line).  Anderson apparently has not recruited anyone to fill three scholarship slots, leaving his successor playing catch-up.
It’s an uncomfortable fact that many if not most major college basketball programs are little more than semi-pro teams who happen to play with under the aegis of “student-athlete.”  Listen to press conferences some time and realize that the average “student-athlete” is about as articulate as the average third grader….but they can shoot, pass, rebound and play defense which is what counts.
Mizzou is better than most at graduating its jocks and Anderson’s focus on team, as opposed to designated stars, was refreshing.  The last 10 games of the just-finished season, rubbed some of the luster off that admirable emphasis when the games often most resembled a three-point shooting contest (and the shooting percentages crashed teamwide).
Lawrence Bowers was the one constant in an often inconsistent offense and a superb shot-blocker to boot.  But he lacks the bulk to be a top rebounder, especially in the Big 12 (or whatever it will be with 10 teams) where rebounding often resembles a gang rumble.  The half-dozen Mizzou guards all can shoot on a given evening, but also have communal off nights.  What once was an offense that featured penetration either for layups or for a kick-out and a high percentage short jump shot, turned into a three-point shoot around that all too often flopped.
The defense which was forcing 20 or so turnovers a game instead turned into a helter-skelter scramble that time and again let passes go in to the other team’s big men for uncontested lay-ins.  Was Anderson already thinking about his future and neglecting the present?
Because in those last few games the team resembled a ship without anyone at the helm.  It veered all over the place and seemed unprepared.  And that’s directly attributable to the coaching, folks, not the players.
Oddly perhaps, I enjoy watching the Celtics or the Spurs because, even though we know they are high-paid professionals, both those teams play team ball, seem to cherish winning, and reflect a commitment to being the best they can be.
We’ll never know what was going through Anderson’s mind, but those of us who date to the Sparky Stallcup era, through Norm Stewart’s stellar career, and the agony of Quin Snyder can live with whatever happens now to Mizzou basketball.  It’s important, but not the end of the world, considering the sorry state of the world.
But from a strictly right-and-wrong aspect, it’s disgusting to hear a guy warble his undying love for a school and then sniff out the big bucks somewhere else before the love song’s echoes have died, but so what?  It’s a sham anyway.  The days of Frank Merriwell amateur college heroics are long past.  Big time college sports are a business and the coaches and players equivalent to corporate CEOs with talented employees.  Anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t paying attention.  Either live with it or live without it–but accept it for the sham it is.
The best option may be to ignore basketball and go fishing.

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1 Comment

  1. Bruce schwartz

    March 26th, 2011 at 9:38 am


    Hey, Joel,

    Your latest column int Gun Dog is an absolute scream. I’ve moved down to Oregon (The Dalles) as well as brother John. We brought Libby down here as well and she’s in an assisted living apartment and. She remembers you, but not where she’s supposed to be going today. Can you write me so I can get your email in my new system … my addresses didn’t come with me for some reason.


    Bruce Schwartz

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