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Published September 12, 2015
Mike Anderson isn't exactly sure how he'll react when he takes the court inside Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
The Arkansas coach does know that he'll wait until the last moments before pre-game introductions to leave the locker room, just as he does every game.
What — or rather who — he sees on the court and in the arena before facing Missouri will be anything but the usual routine. It will be a family reunion of sorts for the Razorbacks coach, who left the Tigers nearly two years ago to return to Arkansas (15-9, 6-5 Southeastern Conference).
"It will be one of those, when the time comes, it will be kind of emotional because those are like my sons," Anderson said. "They are my sons. You talk about family, and I am big on family with our players, they are family for life. Whether they like it or not, they are going to be family for life."
Many of Anderson's former players at Missouri (18-6, 7-4) have departed since he left the school. Much of his extended "family," however, remains.
That includes Tigers point guard Phil Pressey, the son of Anderson's former college roommate, and forward Laurence Bowers. Many of their family members will be in attendance to watch the duo take on their former head coach and friend, with the winner earning a much-needed boost in its quest for postseason play.
"(The) emotion's going to be high, especially for Phil and myself playing against our former coach," Bowers said. "But we're just going to treat it like every other game. It's going to take a whole team effort. Me and Phil aren't going to try to do anything out of character, we're going to try to get a win. ... It will be a fun deal."
Anderson spent five seasons at Missouri, finishing with a 111-56 record and taking the program to the NCAA tournament in each of his last three seasons. He left behind perhaps his best Tigers team when he returned to Arkansas, where he was an assistant coach for 17 seasons under former coach Nolan Richardson.
That team earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament last season under new coach Frank Haith, only to fall to 15th-seeded Norfolk State in the opening round.
Anderson hurt right along with his former players following that loss, a pain they shared in person when he visited Missouri last spring to attend the graduation of his former players, including Bowers.
"Coach Haith had done a great job with them, but we all know about tournament play," Anderson said. "That first game is the most important game. I was hurting for them."
Anderson has done his best to focus on the present leading into Saturday's reunion. The Razorbacks have struggled to gain national relevancy in their short time under Anderson, though they received a much-needed boost of confidence with their first road win of the season at Auburn on Wednesday.
Arkansas is 14-1 at home this season, its lone loss coming to No. 6 Syracuse. Included in those wins is an 80-69 crushing of then-No. 2 Florida two weeks ago, a performance Anderson would like to repeat against Missouri.
BJ Young, the Razorbacks' leading scorer, is from St. Louis and was recruited by Anderson while he was at Missouri. The sophomore had committed to Arkansas when it was still led by former coach John Pelphrey, but he still knows many of the Tigers well.
"It's kind of a personal game," Young said. "We want to take advantage of our opportunities and come out here and show them that we're building something nice down here at Arkansas."
Like the Razorbacks, Missouri has struggled away from home this season — finally earning its first road win Wednesday at Mississippi State. The Tigers have been ranked for much of the season but fell out of the Top 25 this week following a stretch of five losses in 11 games.
They've bounced back with back-to-back wins since then, and Anderson — perhaps as well as anyone — is well aware of their potential. He's particularly aware of Pressey, who leads the SEC with seven assists per game.
"With Phil, you have got the best point guard in the country," Anderson said. "I have always stated that. Obviously, I recruited him, so I have got to say that."
AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this story.