When it’s all said and done, that’s the number by which most fans will define the Mike Anderson era.
Sure, they care Anderson’s a really good guy. His class was once again on full display in the hours following his sudden firing Tuesday by Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek.
“Razorback Nation: It’s been a challenging day,” Anderson said in a heart-wrenching video message. “When you have pride and passion about what you do, it’s hard to say goodbye.”
Anderson then thanked numerous people who helped him along the way.
It must be remembered, too, that Anderson cleaned up and strengthened a Razorback basketball program that was nearly in shambles toward the end of the Pelphrey years. He built the foundation for a true return to glory, if the next coach is the right hire.
These things matter.
But, in the end, the world of big-time modern college basketball is a numbers game. And “two” just doesn’t cut it. Anderson’s Hog teams won just two NCAA Tournament games in eight years.
Yet that’s only half the story.
By the end of this summer, the Anderson era will have produced just two NBA Draft picks — Bobby Portis and Daniel Gafford, who’s a lock to be picked in the 2019 NBA Draft barring injury. Portis was picked No. 22 in 2015 and Gafford is also projected to go in the first round.
Granted, the Arkansas program has never been a hotbed for NBA-bound talent, but there is a correlation between the best years under Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson and how many Razorbacks were picked in the following NBA drafts (in 1978-1982 and 1992-1995, respectively).
Anderson whiffed on a few future NBA players during recruiting periods. The most infamous is homegrown star Malik Monk, who instead of staying in northwest Arkansas chose to play for a coach who can brag to recruits he developed NBA stars like Devin Booker, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. After a season at Kentucky, Monk was drafted at 11 in 2017.
Then there’s Reggie Perry, the kind of rugged, skilled power forward that Arkansas desperately needed this past season. Perry decommitted from Arkansas and instead chose to play for Mississippi State’s Ben Howland, who can brag he developed Russell Westbrook into a college star in a previous stint at UCLA.
Perry should play in the NBA in the next few years.
The bottom line is Mike Anderson didn’t attract enough top-tier talent because he didn’t have a track record of developing enough of them into pro stars. As a result, his reputation as a player developer suffered among NBA insiders.
Anderson coached a free-flowing, “organized chaos” kind of system that empowered players to call their own shots on the court more often than in most other college programs. But that kind of free rein at the college level can hurt more than help when stepping into the training camp of a Gregg Popovich or Brad Stevens for the first time.
One NBA scout confirmed to me Anderson’s reputation for not developing players for the League as well as other other top college coaches.
In fact, the desire for better development is a major reason talented forward Darious Hall transferred out of Arkansas last spring, according to those who know him.
Through it all, Anderson knew exactly what he was doing. He had a system he preached for decades and did not cater to the modern basketball star’s obsession with going pro.
Anderson stuck to his guns and didn’t try to be something he wasn’t. If recruits or promising Razorbacks chose to play elsewhere, so be it.
Mike wasn’t going to change for them.
The irony here is that Anderson’s last Razorback team may end up as his most talented in terms of NBA draftees. Spectacular freshmen like Isaiah Joe and Reggie Chaney may one day join Gafford at that level.
In all, the 2018-19 team could end up producing three NBA draft picks in the coming years.
It’s on the next coach to make that potential a reality. He must maximize the talents of Joe and Chaney, and other freshmen like Desi Sills, in ways Anderson never could.
Arkansas needs its next coach to be well-respected among NBA personnel. That will help open the door to more elite recruits. They, in turn, should rack up a good deal more than two NCAA Tournament wins.