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Father figure

Senior basketball players say goodbye to Anderson and their Mizzou family

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  • Story by Ryan Gavin
  • Photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: March 6, 2009
Mike Anderson

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Photo captions

  1. Head coach Mike Anderson bellows for his players to keep up their hustle against Oklahoma on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers held a lead the entire 40 minutes of play and won 73-64.
  2. Before the game, seniors Michael Anderson Jr., DeMarre Carroll, Matt Lawrence and Leo Lyons receive recognition from a sold-out crowd.
  3. Truman and members of the Zou Crew got the party started by spelling out the name of Jarrid Famous, a sophomore student at Westchester Community College in New York who was on an official visit to MU.
  4. Upon introduction, DeMarre Carroll, also known as the Junkyard Dog, walks into the spotlight on the east end of Mizzou Arena to defend his turf one final time.
  5. Freshman guard Kim English takes it to the lane in the first half against a couple of Sooners defenders, including a falling Blake Griffin.
  6. Michael Anderson Jr., son of Mizzou’s head coach, defends Oklahoma forward Taylor Griffin in the first half. Anderson had two steals, a rebound and an assist in only five minutes of play.
  7. Junior forward Juan Pattillo’s dunk in the second half wasn’t enough to bring the Sooners back from a nine-point loss.
  8. Oklahoma senior guard Austin Johnson unsuccessfully attempts to block Matt Lawrence on a shot that added to his total of seven points.
  9. Junior forward Keith Ramsey awaits the fall of an MU shot in the second half as he and the ball are suspended for a split second.
  10. The scoreboard highlights a fifth-consecutive sold-out game at Mizzou Arena. With the win, the Tigers completed an 18-0 home record for the 2008-09 season.
  11. Despite his focus, sophomore forward Blake Griffin struggles to lead his team to victory.
  12. Griffin, Oklahoma’s lead scorer with 16 points, did what he could to bring a road win back to Norman, Okla., but his efforts fell short.
  13. DeMarre Carroll and Blake Griffin compete for one of several rebounds. Carroll ended up with 10 rebounds, while Griffin had 21.
  14. Oronde Taliaferro, an Oklahoma assistant coach, suffers through a game in which the Sooners never pulled ahead.
  15. Freshman guard Marcus Denmon joined the Zou Crew for a post-game celebration. Denmon had six points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal.

Basketball coach Mike Anderson’s son hasn’t started a game all season for the Tigers, but Wednesday night, on senior night, Mike Anderson Jr. finally got his shot. Mizzou needed to win in order to finish the home season undefeated for the first time in 15 years, and, adding to the pressure, the game was against No. 4 Oklahoma.

A pregame ceremony honored the four seniors: regular starters DeMarre Carroll (the coach’s nephew) and Leo Lyons, occasional starter Matt Lawrence, and Anderson Jr. The ceremony included a presentation of framed jerseys to players and their parents, a listing of accomplishment and thunderous applause from the fifth-consecutive sellout crowd at Mizzou Arena.

“It was a proud moment as a father,” coach Anderson says. “I got real choked up when I walked out there with Mike.”

Father knows best

Before the game started, the Tigers headed back to the locker room to refocus their efforts. But pulling back from the moment and concentrating was easier said than done. Carroll says he used his emotions to fire him up and motivate him to win, but the nerves took hold of some of the others.

“It was just a lot of emotions going through my head,” Anderson Jr. says. “I was nervous as all heck. I haven’t been out there for really a lot of significant minutes at all.”

The game finally got under way. Mizzou came out playing at a furious pace and quickly took an early lead that the Tigers maintained all game en route to a 73-64 win. That start was fuelled by none other than Anderson Jr., who recorded two steals, an assist and a rebound in the first five minutes of play.

“I’m just tickled to death as a father; he really sparked our basketball team,” Anderson says. “But it’s like I’m all these guys’ fathers.”

Coach Anderson, since coming to Mizzou three seasons ago, is responsible for a huge transformation of the basketball program. Yes, the team’s record has vastly improved, with the Tigers now 25-5 and 12-3 in Big 12 play, but the team’s image has undergone a transformation as well. The reason? Players and coaches alike now feel like they’re part of a family.

Mizzou basketball was on shaky ground when Anderson came in, and some of the holdover players from the Quin Snyder era, such as Lyons, weren’t in the place Anderson needed them to be.

“Leo was one of those guys who needed someone to be there on him and push him to be the best he could be,” Anderson says. “As I came in, I told those guys, ‘The slate is clean and you guys are part of my family.’ And I think it was good for him.”

Lyons and Anderson appeared to butt heads at first. But then Anderson, in his fatherly manner, had a talk with Lyons.

“‘[Some journalists] write like we don’t like each other, but in fact, I love you, Leo,’ I told him. Boy, you should have seen the smile on his face,” Anderson says. “It was tough love; that’s all it is.”

Hitting the books

To play for this father, though, all players’ academics had to be up to snuff. Fifth-year seniors Anderson Jr. and Carroll both graduated on time and started taking classes toward their master’s degrees. Lawrence is on schedule to graduate this spring. But things for Lyons weren’t so easy.

“School wasn’t one of his favorite subjects, let me tell you,” says Anderson, who forced the players to improve their academics before playing basketball. “He and I and his mom got together on that, and he’s put himself in position to get it done. I’m really, really proud of Leo, just to see the things that are taking place. He’s got a world of potential, but potential doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do anything with it.”

The Tigers family has drastically improved this season. While the players say they knew they were capable of beating anybody, they acknowledge the run this season has been a joyful surprise.

“To go undefeated at home caught me emotionally,” says Carroll, who let the tears stream down his face before the game. “Perfect; that’s a great word. …To finish it off like this, that’s amazing.”

The credit comes back to Anderson, who is one of 10 U.S. Basketball Writers Association finalists for National Coach of the Year.

“It took a little while for me to actually see it and understand what he wanted,” Lyons says. “But I was real lucky to be here and have coach Anderson come here. He just showed us the way.”

At some point after the NCAA tournament, Anderson, like all fathers, will have to say goodbye to his children and send them out into the world. But what he’s built should continue bringing in newcomers who fit into this close-knit family.

“Some good things have taken place for us,” Anderson says. “It didn’t happen overnight like I had hoped, but as we went through the storm and went through all the trials and tribulations, we made a statement in terms of the brand, the style, what our guys are going to be about, the character they’re going to have. Hopefully we continue to get those kinds of kids in here.”

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Last updated: June 6, 2013