A follow-up on today's column on Frank Haith and Mizzou basketball
The Kansas City Star
Today’s column is on the unlikely journey of Frank Haith and his Missouri basketball team.
There’s a lot in there, including why Ricardo Ratliffe is D-Bo, the time Haith almost got kicked out of his own gym, why Bob Knight told him “don’t give me that (stuff),” and mostly, how a coach nobody gave a chance took a group of kids who faded and didn’t get along last year and now has them playing some of the most beautiful basketball in the country.
But one point I didn’t get to, at least not in depth: the most encouraging part of Haith’s first 18 games is the way they’re winning.
MU tried to sell him to fans as a nice guy and a good recruiter, which sounds eerily similar to “crappy coach.”
The point can be made that last year’s MU team started 14-1 and was in the top 10, so what’s the big deal?
Well, the big deal is that a bunch of players who never chose to play for Haith are playing better than they ever did for the coach they chose to play for. MU is one of the smallest teams in the country, and Haith had to drastically change what he wanted after Laurence Bowers’ knee tear and, to a lesser extent, Kadeem Green transferred.
The big deal is that Haith is coaching. Missouri probably has top 25 talent, but they’re playing more like a top 10 to 15 team. It’s a beautiful style of basketball that accentuates MU’s strengths (ball handlers, passing) and minimizes its weaknesses (taking charges are emphasized as the way to protect the basket).
Will it last? Who knows. I don’t like their chances tomorrow in Waco (mentioned this in the column, but with Baylor playing at home the game after getting boatraced in Lawrence, the circumstances are identical to the K-State loss), and it’s instructive to remember that outside shooting often struggles in the NCAA Tournament.
But the other side of it: this is not a team you’d want any part of on a neutral floor. Maybe you get a mismatch with Kim English guarding your power forward, but then your power forward is also guarding English, and when he’s away from the basket there’s more room for backdoors and, besides, how many times are you going to lose Marcus Denmon running to the three-point line on a fast break?
This all becomes much harder to keep up next year. We all understand that. Denmon, English, Ricardo Ratliffe (who may’ve benefitted more from Haith than anyone), Steve Moore and Matt Pressey are all seniors. That’s five of the seven who take the bulk of the minutes.
But Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey will be joined by Bowers and an impressive stalk of transfers, most notably Earnest Ross, who might average 15 points and 9 rebounds next season. Remember, in the beginning, we were told that Haith’s biggest strength was recruiting.
I don’t know if Haith will turn out to be great or Quin Snyder or somewhere in between. Neither do you.
What I do know is that he’s already been much better than most any of us expected, and we’d all be fools not to adjust our opinions accordingly.