In the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic shut down college basketball, Mike Anderson has binge watched a few series. He’s watched all of the edgy crime drama “Ozark,” which made him recall trips to the Lake of the Ozarks where he said “I probably ran into all of the characters on that show.”
He’s also seen some of hit show “Tiger King.”
These days, he’s feeling a bit like one of the caged tigers in the true crime Netflix series.
Anderson and his wife, Marcheita Anderson, stay at their home in New York City way more than they’d like to. The shelter-in-place orders allow him time to grow a “little sequestered beard,” hit the grocery store some and reflect on the strange times he’s living in.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s something that we were going through that probably no one could ever imagine,” he told Fox Sports’ Andy Katz in a recent interview. “And my prayers and thoughts go out to all the families who have lost loved ones during this particular time, but it’s been surreal.”
“Sometimes things happen, we don’t know why, but it also gives you a time to reflect on things,” said Anderson, who spent a total of 25 years in Fayetteville as an assistant and head coach for the Razorbacks.
“Obviously, we’ve been blessed in the life that we have in. So every day is a blessing. So let’s pray and hope that we can find an antidote for this virus, man — a vaccine so that we can knock it out. And it will pass.”
Anderson said he’s been in awe of the work of the healthcare workers and first responders in New York City, where nearly 14,000 people have died from COVID-19.
That group includes a few Arkansans, including Erin Courtway, a mother of two from Fayetteville:
“We kinda got hit upside the head”
Early on, Anderson knew his first season at St. John’s would be rough as he tried to implement his “40 Minutes of Hell” derived scheme.
His Reddies got off to a great start with an 11-2 record, including a win over No. 16 Arizona. They were playing a style Nolan Richardson would be proud of, eventually finishing second in nation in steals and third in assists to turnover ratio.
Anderson had St. John’s fans nearly as hyped as Musselman had Hogs fans when Arkansas burst out of the gates in non-conference.
Then the guantlet that is the Big East conference hit.
“The Big East is the best it’s been since it’s been united, full of great coaches and great teams,” Anderson told Katz. “We kinda got hit upside the head starting off. I thought we collected ourselves and we were competitive — but there’s a difference between being competitive and winning.”
Now ain’t that the truth.
St. John’s finished with a 5-13 conference record, including 1-5 against ranked Big East teams. The Reddies shot just 32.1 percent from three as a team during. They struggled tremendously on the offensive end of the floor against high-quality defenses, something Hog fans know well from the Anderson era.
Still, it seemed like the Reddies were heating up at the end, winning three of their last four games including one against highly ranked Creighton.
Indeed, in the last game of the college basketball season, St. John’s was leading Creighton at halftime in the Big East Tournament. But that game was cancelled at halftime.
The next day, all Anderson’s players had been sent home “As I told our guys, there’s a game that’s bigger than basketball. And that’s the game of life.”
Since then, the program’s biggest accomplishment has been signing the No. 67-ranked class of 2020, according to 247Sports. That’s more than 60 spots behind Arkansas’ class of 2020.
Despite the fact that four Big East teams signed Top 40 classes, Anderson still sees bright days ahead at St. John’s. “I like the team that’s coming back. We were a very young basketball team, very inexperienced.”
Just as he did often for Arkansas’ recruiting, he’s bringing in a mix of mix of mostly regional three-star talent to complement JUCO stars. His high schoolers are Dylan Wusu and Posh Alexander, teammates on the same Bronx school.
Anderson also signed two JUCO All-Americans, including Isaih Moore, a 6’10” will ‘o wisp with a 7’6″ wingspan from Mississippi.
Battling Arkansas on the recruiting trail
Arkansas was one of the teams Anderson beat out for Moore’s commitment last year. Others included LSU, Alabama and Mississippi.
Those other programs were trying to get him on campus for a visit, but Moore pulled the trigger before any visits, according to the New York Post.
“I really like Coach Anderson,” Moore said in a phone interview. “I’m able to play in the Big East on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. You can’t beat that.”
Looking ahead to future classes, St. John’s and Arkansas have both offered at least two different star recruits:
Class of 2021
Alex Tchikou, Glendale, Arizona
St. John’s is the latest of 27+ programs to offer the rangy Tchikou, following Arkansas by a few weeks.
“I am very interested in Arkansas,” he told reporter Kevin McPherson. Tchikou said Hogs assistant Chris Crutchfield told him he is the type of multi-positional big man that Arkansas covets.
“I will fit their style of play because of my skills and size,” Tchikou told McPherson.
Tchikou said he averaged “about 15 (points) and 10 (rebounds)” per game in 2019-20 at Dream City Christian.
Tchikou completed his virtual tour of Arkansas at the end of April, saying it was “very good.”
“Very good size for position. Slender, chiseled frame with long arms. Outstanding athlete both laterally and vertically. Has elite defensive upside with combination of size, length and physical tools. Generally plays hard. Has range to three on offense but athleticism makes him best in transition. Can improve offensively within perimeter but has high ceiling as interior scorer given physical gifts. Shot selection needs work. Ceiling is extremely high but will need to improve skill to get there.”-Josh Gershon, 247Sports recruiting analyst
Class of 2022
Nick Smith, Sylvan Hills, Arkansas
Smith got an offer from Musselman in the summer of 2019. He’s spoken enthusiastically about the Razorback program, but said there are no leaders this early in the process.
He’s from the same school that produced Archie Goodwin, the former blue chip recruit who chose Kentucky over Mike Anderson and the Hogs. It would be a few levels of irony if Smith eventually spurned the Hogs to play for Anderson.
For more insight into Arkansas’ 2020 class, see our latest: