EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- When Kim Anderson arrived at Central Missouri’s Warrensburg campus for his first head coaching job in 2002, there was not a 12-year plan.
After all, Anderson had built a career at the NCAA Division I level. He was a star at Missouri and led the Big Eight Conference in scoring in 1977. Twice he was an assistant coach at Missouri and also at Baylor.
Before taking the job at Central Missouri, he was an assistant commissioner at the Big XII Conference.But here it is, 12 years later, and Anderson has built Central Missouri into one of the strongest men‘s basketball programs in NCAA Division II. The Mules are in the quarterfinals for the third time under Anderson this week. They have never lost a national quarterfinal game with Anderson as coach.
Wednesday at the Ford Center, Anderson turned around from his team’s bench and threw his arms up into the air in celebration in front of the Central Missouri fans immediately after the Mules finished off their 98-88 quarterfinal win against Southern Connecticut State. He hugged senior guards Daylen Robinson and Charles Hammork.
Do you think this season’s run to 28 wins with a team that had to replace 10 players from last year’s squad meant something deep?
A few minutes later, Anderson’s voice cracked with emotion as he thanked his team in the postgame press conference.
“I’m really proud of my team,” he said. “The guys have really worked hard.”
“It means a lot to us,” Robinson, who led the Mules with 28 point, said. “We know coach is going to get emotional this time of year; if we lose, you go home.”
Central Missouri has won 272 games since Anderson became head coach. He is a man clearly in control of his team. But that‘s not the way it started.
“When I got into this level, I had no idea what I was getting into,” Anderson said. “I had been at Mizzou, Coach [Norm] Stewart had retired. I had gone into the Big 12, which was a fantastic experience for me.”
The Mules won just 13 games that first season in 2002. In 12 years, that has been Anderson’s only losing team. They have won six MIAA championships, including the last three for the first three-peat in school history. And during all those years, he has built strong but demanding relationships with his players, including Wednesday, when he got on junior forward Dillon Deck a bit at halftime in the locker room.
“It’s awesome,” Deck, who responded with a double-double performance with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, said. “He really knows how to coach. He’s always pushing us to get better. That’s what I love about him.”
Want to talk tough? This year’s team began its preparations for the season by going into a camp with military officers in training.
“The preseason was really tough. We had this thing where we went out and did boot camp with ROTC officers,” Deck said. “It really built a bond for all of us because we all struggled and we had to help each other.”
It is Central’s consistency from year to year that most satisfies Anderson.
“The thing I’m probably most proud of, and I don’t really talk about this much, is for the last 11 years, we’ve won 18 games or more every year,” Anderson said. “We haven’t been bad. We haven’t always been 31 wins, but we haven’t been 10 wins. So we’ve been consistent.”
One thing is certain. Central Missouri is home for Anderson and it has been for some time. He grew up in Sedalia, which is less than 30 miles away from Warrensburg. The family connections to the campus are almost endless. It is a perfect fit.
“Here’s what’s important to me and it’s gotten more important as I’ve gotten older: My family is all there, my wife’s family is all there,” he said. “I grew up there. My sister was an All-American there, and she was way better than me.
“My mom and dad both went to school at Central. We have an outstanding president. Dr. [Charles M.] Ambrose does a tremendous job. He’s a visionary guy. Our AD [Jerry Hughes] has been there a long time. My sister works there.”