Anderson prepares Tigers for frantic pace with tough workouts

Friday, October 13, 2006

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Forty minutes of hell can wait. Around Mizzou Arena, Missouri basketball players must first get used to new coach Mike Anderson's penchant for pre-dawn, gut-busting workouts.

With seven new players on a 15-man roster and a defense-driven, breakneck style still to teach, Anderson is preaching patience as Missouri prepares to start practice Friday -- even as eager fans relish a fresh start after Quin Snyder's midseason resignation last year amid a disastrous 12-16 campaign.

"We're still trying to figure it out," Anderson said after a recent 6 a.m. preseason workout, at which coaches are allowed limited participation. "There are still a lot of question marks with this basketball team."

Those questions include who will replace the production of shooting guard Thomas Gardner and his 19.7 points-per-game average, second in the Big 12 Conference. Gardner left school early to turn pro and now plays in Belgium.

Among the eight returning players, junior forwards Marshall Brown and Glen Dandridge both expect to play bigger roles for the Tigers.

The 6-foot-6 Dandridge, primarily a role player and spot-up shooter last year, said he's eager to show more of his all-around skills in the system Anderson honed at Alabama-Birmingham and as an Arkansas assistant under Nolan Richardson. Anderson's teams made three NCAA appearances in four years at Alabama-Birmingham while compiling an 89-41 record.

"This is definitely a clean slate," Dandridge said. "The last two years haven't been what I expected. I'm trying to get this thing rolling here."

Among the newcomers, at least two could see significant playing time: brash point guard Stefhon Hannah, a junior college transfer from Chicago who spurned Bob Huggins and Kansas State, and lightning quick freshman Keon Law-rence from Newark, N.J., also a guard.

Then again, Anderson hopes to run a rotation 10 or 11 players deep, perhaps rendering the notion of a steady starting lineup obsolete.

"It's way too soon to be talking about starting lineups," he said. "It's still wide open."

At a preseason news conference Thursday afternoon, Anderson said each of his players will have to "audition" for playing time.

"Guys who pick it up the quickest are the ones who are going to do most of the playing," he said. "I could not give you one guy [in the starting lineup] right now."

Off the court, Anderson has taken to heart the responsibility of restoring public confidence in a program that soured many Tiger fans after Snyder's resignation and the ensuing flap that nearly cost athletics director Mike Alden his job.

Snyder said he was forced out by Alden but given the news by Gary Link, an Alden assistant and Tiger broadcaster. Two subsequent university investigations stopped short of blaming Alden but cast the once-storied program under a persistent pall.

Anderson's contract, which pays him a minimum of $850,000 annually over five years, stipulates the coach make at least 30 public appearances each year -- a clause some interpreted as a parting shot at the often-reclusive Snyder.

Less than seven months into the job, Anderson has already made more than doubled the required number of public speaking engagements, said team spokesman Dave Reiter.

Locals need not venture far to run into Anderson. He regularly eats lunch at the Shiloh Bar and Grill near campus, takes his teenage daughter, Yvonne, to the movies and the mall, and generally has embraced Columbia as his new home.

"He knows what it takes to build fan loyalty," said University of Missouri curator Don Walsworth, an avid booster. "He doesn't slack his duty."

Anderson has also restored a Midnight Madness-style event to mark the start of practice, the first such event since early in Snyder's seven-year reign. At Mizzou Madness, which begins at 9 p.m. Friday, fans will be able to join the Tiger men's and women's team for 3-point shooting contests and simulated practice drills. Admission is free, though fans are asked to bring one canned food item for charity.

Missouri opens the season Nov. 10 against North Carolina A&T, playing 10 home games in November and December alone. Highlights of the schedule include a Nov. 30 home game against Arkansas, the annual Braggin' Rights game against Illinois on Dec. 19 in St. Louis and a visit by Huggins and Kansas State on Jan. 13.

Anderson said the team will reflect his own playing style as a scrappy, undersized guard at Tulsa under Richardson.

"I'm a blue-collar guy and that's going to be reflection of our team," he said.

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