Missouri is 12-1 entering its SEC opener against Georgia on Wednesday, and Frank Haith’s crew has cracked the national rankings with the help of its talented backcourt. Haith discusses his team’s strong start, SEC play and his previous five-game suspension stemming from NCAA violations.
ESPN: How do feel about your team with SEC play set to begin?
Haith: I feel good. I think we’ve done what we need to do. We’re probably two points away from being 13-0 (Illinois defeated the Tigers on late free throws in December). I think the team has gotten better. We’re still an improving club. But when you have three guys like [Earnest Ross] and [Jordan Clarkson] and [Jabari Brown] -- all three guys can have a big night -- I like that. I like that luxury. We’ve been as good as we’ve been defensively since we’ve been here with this team. And I think that gives us a chance. I like where we’re at going into SEC play, but I still think we’re going to get better.
ESPN: How surprising is Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson’s early success (19.3 ppg)?
Haith: We all knew Jordan was a really good player when he sat out and he was at practice and he would go against [Phil Pressey]. He was learning how to be a point guard. So we anticipated him being a good player. But there’s no question he’s exceeded my expectations of him this early. He’s been so consistent. He’s been able to handle the position. Obviously, when you lose a guy like Phil Pressey, you wonder, as everybody did, how were we going to be able to fill that position because he left early. But Jordan Clarkson has been tremendous.
ESPN: What are this team’s flaws? What keeps you up at night when you think about this team?
Haith: We’ve been a team that when we need to answer the bell, we answer the bell. We’ve made plays when we needed to do that. The area of growth we have to have is when we have success or we have a lead, we cannot take a play or a possession off. We have done that throughout the [season]. We have a lead and all of sudden we think that gives us a right to take a bad shot or take a quick shot or be lazy on defense. And really good teams don’t do that. We’re not quite there yet.
ESPN: How did you handle your suspension at the start of the season?
Haith: It was hard, being away from my team for the first five games. It was difficult to not be around them or my coaching staff. With that time I was able to recruit, but watching games was hard. But I learned a lot. I’m watching our team play. It gave me great insight once I got back with my team, what we needed to do and how we needed to do it. But we got through it. It was also good family time, too. I had time with my daughter and my wife. We did a lot of things together. I was able to take my daughter to school, pick her up and have lunch with her, some of the things you don’t normally do or have a chance to do during the season. It was tough but it was also healthy for me, too. I was glad to get back on the court during our first trip to Vegas.
ESPN: Some of the criticism surrounding your situation was related to the fact that other coaches in similar situations had received different penalties. How did you deal with that criticism?
Haith: I didn’t pay attention to any of that stuff. That wasn’t for me to look into or decipher. Media is gonna say what they say, [they're going to] say what they need to say. All situations are different, I will say, based on what they are. I don’t need to get into anything other than that.