Missouri hires Andrew Wiggins' high school coach to overhaul recruiting strategy

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Anderson hired a risky third assistant in Rob Fulford. He could pay big dividends for the Tigers.

Frank Haith's three-year tenure as the Missouri Tigers' coach came and went, and his brazen strategy of relying heavily on Division I transfers resulted in zero NCAA Tournament wins and a preemptive decision to leave for Tulsa before his athletics director could make the move for him. Haith didn't find success in building a program on transfers -- certainly not in the way Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State did -- and, though indirectly, it forced his hand to leave for a lesser program.

New Missouri coach Kim Anderson seems to already be more committed to traditional high school recruiting than Haith ever was, which Anderson proved Monday when he announced Rob Fulford would join his staff as an assistant coach. Fulford was the coach at Huntington Prep, an upstart prep school founded in 2009 that Fulford had coached since then. Huntington Prep had its first first-round draft pick when Gorgui Dieng went to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Andrew Wiggins will become the second on Thursday.

In three signing classes, Haith brought in seven Division I transfers (two of which sat out last year and will debut for Missouri under Anderson), two junior college transfers and eight high school players. Two of those high schoolers transferred away after one season. Last season freshman power forward Johnathan Williams and sophomore Ryan Rosburg were the first high school recruits under Haith to play more than 37 percent of the team's available minutes. It's not that Haith fixed cracks in the foundation with transfers; the foundation was built with them. Whether Haith did not have the connections and wherewithal to pull in top high school recruits or simply chose to build his program differently is irrelevant. It didn't work.

Fulford's hire is a step in, if nothing else, a different direction. Fulford's credentials as a coach aside -- he's lost 17 games as a prep school head coach in the past five years -- the hire is primarily about making inroads in recruiting and giving Missouri a recognizable, reputable face on the AAU circuit. Top 2016 recruit Thon Maker was expected to make an unofficial visit to Missouri on Tuesday, according to Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star.

Tuesday was Fulford's second official day on the job, and his presence in the high school and AAU circuit over the past several years means the top high school recruit in two years' time walked into the basketball offices in Columbia and saw one more welcoming face.

Hiring Fulford would also seem to put the Tigers in play for any number of prospects from Huntington Prep, including two players in 247Sports.com's top 32 for the Class of 2015: No. 13 Thomas Bryant and No. 32 Montaque Gill-Caesar.

It isn't necessarily a safe hire for Anderson, who could have justified hiring a longtime Division I assistant since he and one of his assistants are both making the transition from Division II Central Missouri. Fulford's only experience as a college assistant coach was at Mountain State University, an NAIA school, from 1997 to 2000. But safety in decisions isn't a guarantee, either. Haith relied on experience over talent, or perhaps the forecast of talent, in his three years in Missouri. That experiment failed, and Anderson is already differentiating himself from his predecessor to ensure he's not similarly felled.

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