Tigers unbeaten, No. 9 with new coach Frank Haith

By R.B. Fallstrom

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 20 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In this April 5, 2011 file photo, Frank Haith is introduced as the new head basketball coach at the University of Missouri during a news conference in Columbia, Mo. The eighth-ranked Tigers are 11-0 under new coach Frank Haith, widely viewed as a fallback hire this spring.

Jeff Roberson, File, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Mike Alden isn't hearing many complaints these days about his new men's basketball coach.

Serving as an informal greeter as players bounded out of the locker room tunnel after a win this week, the school's athletic director was burst-your-buttons proud of Frank Haith and the Tigers. Maybe relieved, too.

The ninth-ranked Tigers' 11-0 start heading into the annual game against No. 25 Illinois on Thursday in St. Louis is the school's best in 20 years, since Norm Stewart was storming the court in his heyday. Missouri cracked the Top 10 on the strength of signature blowouts over Notre Dame and then-No. 20 California and leads the Big 12 in most scoring categories.

All this is masterminded by a man who arrived as the virtually unknown fallback candidate from Miami who failed to make any kind of dent in the Atlantic Coast Conference power structure. And he came to town amid controversy, tailed by an NCAA investigation into sordid allegations surrounding the Hurricanes.

So far, somehow, Missouri has been Haith's heaven.

"We've still got a long ways ahead of us, but we're proud where we're at," Haith said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're pleased where we're at. There's no doubt we've had some really good wins already."

Haith inherited plenty of talent from predecessor Mike Anderson and he's kept things humming. Missouri totaled 77 victories the previous three seasons, is coming off consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and has a senior-laden roster topped by preseason All-Big 12 guard Marcus Denmon, sharpshooting Kim English and electric sophomore guard Phil Pressey.

Reserve guard Ricky Kreklow was the only player to transfer. Brothers Phil and Matt Pressey's father is former NBA star Paul Pressey, a lifelong friend of Anderson, but there was no thought of leaving.

Senior forward Laurence Bowers, out for the season with a left knee injury, said players knew they had the makings of a very good team coming off a 23-win season, and weren't about to jeopardize that -- even with a new coach coming in.

"When you have a lot of guys who are used to winning, regardless of whatever comes their way they're going to persevere," Bowers said. "Not once did we have our heads down. It's turned out that he's a great coach."

Matt Pressey, one of the top reserves in a seven-man rotation, added: "Our chemistry is better, point blank. Guys came in really focused on what coach Haith was trying to do, and we're getting it done."

The wins keep coming, pushing the NCAA investigation at Miami out of sight to many Missouri fans.

Haith spent seven years at Miami before he was hired by Missouri in April. After he was hired, Yahoo Sports released a sweeping investigation into alleged corruption in the Hurricanes athletics programs, citing information from booster Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi schemer.

Shapiro claimed he paid then-Hurricanes recruit DeQuan Jones $10,000 to attend the school with Haith's approval. The report by Yahoo Sports includes two photographs of Shapiro with Haith — one at a Miami Beach restaurant and the other showing the pair with Miami president Donna Shalala at a bowling alley accepting what Shapiro said was a $50,000 donation to the school's basketball program. The website also obtained telephone records showing 85 calls or text messages between the two over a five-year period

In a school-issued statement, Haith pledged to cooperate with the NCAA. "The reports questioning my personal interactions with Mr. Shapiro are not an accurate portrayal of my character," Haith said then, and he's keep quiet since.

Alden said he had no idea when the probe would be completed. And he's more than happy to bask in the glow of Missouri's fast start.

"You never know," Alden said, "but I was hopeful. I'm just pleased."

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