A few hours out, University of Missouri coach Mike Anderson the feeling became more overpowering that this was not your ordinary, non-conference, fill-the-schedule game with a mid-major opponent.
When the 13th-ranked Tigers host the University of Central Arkansas Bears tonight in a regionally televised game, the coach on the oppposite bench will be Corliss Williamson, whom Anderson recruited and mentored as an assistant at the University of Arkansas and was the MVP of the NCAA tournament when the Razorbacks won the national title in 1994.
"The closer the game gets, the feeling gets more weirder," said Anderson during a telephone interview from his Columbia, Mo., office Friday. "I know this will be an emotional game. And I know Corliss is partly responsible for me being here. Any coach will tell you that to have success you have to have good players."
Anderson said he recognized certain special qualities early on during those glory days at Arkansas. He said he and Corliss have had several conversations prior to and since he has taken the job at UCA.
"I told him the most important thing is to be yourself and to coach in your style, your way," Anderson said. "I think Corliss has the perfect demeanor for a coach. On the court, he’s a warrior. Off the court, he’s good at building relationships, both with players and the community. His teams will mirror his personality."
Williamson and Anderson both have a common bond of having played for Nolan Richardson, the head coach at Arkansas when Williamson played. Anderson played for Williamson at Tulsa University.
"As a player, Corliss was like a coach," Anderson said. "Most people who played for coach Richardson can be a good coach becasue of all the things he (Richardson) taught us, especially the little things and things about life. It doesn’t surprise me about Corliss. He knows what it takes. And Corliss has won a national championship and a world (NBA) championship. And he continues to learn."
What did Anderson notice about Williamson early on?
"He was always a tremendous basketball player, but he also had a great basketball IQ," Anderson said. "For him it was about the little things. He was not a super athlete or the tallest. But he knew how to get rebounds. He knew how to score on people. He was great at anticipating. He could handle the ball, make great passes and block shots. He played with a lot of heart and I think that carried over to his professional career and will carry over to his coaching career.
"He gonna be a good coach because he is everything you want a coach to be. He knows basketball and has learned from everyone he has played for and he’s had success as a player at every level. He’s a productive citizen. He’s a good father. He’s a great role model and a good provider. You do those things and basketball will take care of itself ...
"And he has worked for everything he’s achieved. As a kid, he helped clean buildings for his uncle’s janitorial service. He hasn’t been given anything. He has worked and worked hard for everything he has achieved.
"He knows what it takes. It’s only a matter of times before some exciting things happen at Central Arkansas and basketball in Conway."
Anderson talks regularly to Richardson, now a coach in Oklahoma City in the NBA, and his mentor tried to arrange his schedule to attend the game but was unable to.
"I know he’ll be following the game," Anderson said. "I know it thrills him to know two of his former players are coaching teams in a game of Division I basketball."