Four years to the day after he was hired at Missouri, Mike Anderson stood in the interview room at Mizzou Arena discussing his second consecutive NCAA Tournament team.
"It seems like I just got here," Anderson said. "But some of those things I talked about that day, you can see."
"You took guys best shots. Guys were celebrating when they beat us. They were like, 'Phew, we got them.' Missouri means something now."
More teams beat the Tigers this season than a year ago. Coming off an Elite Eight appearance and a school-record 31 wins, the Tigers ended this season at 23-and-11 after a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to West Virginia on Sunday.
"It was a season of almosts, really. We had a lot of almosts," Anderson said. "I think it sets the stage for a team that continues to get better."
After that breakout season in 2008-09, Anderson saw three seniors-and three 1,000-point scorers-leave the program. Again this year, he will lose a trio of players in J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey. It will leave Anderson with just one senior on next year's team and Justin Safford will be coming off a torn ACL.
"Next year is going to be a changing of the guard because we lose some tremendous, tremendous players...the baton has been passed on," Anderson said. "You saw the face of DeMarre Carroll. This year, you see the face of JT Tiller. Who will be that guy? Who will be those guys?"
There is no shortage of candidates. Kim English, Laurence Bowers and Marcus Denmon were the three leading scorers on this year's team. In the loss to West Virginia, freshman Mike Dixon Jr. led the Tigers with 15 points. Joining that group is a recruiting class that Rivals.com has ranked in the nation's top ten, headlined by Dallas standouts Phil Pressey and Tony Mitchell.
Playing time, leadership and roles are yet to be determined. They will take shape over the off-season and into next fall. But in four years, Anderson feels he has established something in Columbia.
"Missouri is relevant in college basketball. As a coach, that's what you want," he said. "Winning is a habit. Hopefully they've got that habit now."
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