Former Mizzou basketball star Kim English's past and present influences helping build his vision at George Mason

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
George Mason head coach Kim English gives instructions during offseason practice. English, a former Missouri star, was hired as the Patriots' head coach in March.

Nearing four months since his hiring as head men's basketball coach at George Mason, Kim English hasn't looked too far into the future.

The Missouri alum, still widely popular among Tiger fans from his time wearing the black and gold from 2008 to 2012, hasn't let taking the helm of a program for the first time disrupt the ebb and flow of how he likes to handle things.

English has displayed a meticulous, thoughtful approach to both playing and coaching throughout his hardwood career, traits that have put him in position to climb the ranks and lead a Division I program before he turns 33.

His mentality isn't changing now.

"I really try to focus on the day to day," English said during a phone interview with the Tribune this past week. "I know what I want our group to look like. I know what I want our group to play like. For me, it's just becoming that every day, every practice, every possession. That's kind of the goal.

"There's long-term goals. But the most important goals are right in front of our face. And so for me, it's just trying to get our guys and our group to play the right way, to carry themselves the right way and help get this program back to where it belongs on a consistent annual basis."

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English inherits a Patriots team best-known for its Cinderella NCAA Tournament in 2006, reaching the Final Four as a low-mid-major and No. 11 seed. A decade has passed since George Mason made The Big Dance, and English is in charge of a rebuild.

Kim English is introduced as the new head men's basketball coach at George Mason in March.

The Patriots shifted to the Atlantic 10 Conference from the Colonial Athletic Association in 2013, similar to the path taken by in-state and conference rival VCU. As members of the Colonial, the Rams went from the inaugural First Four portion of the NCAA tourney to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. A year later, VCU departed for the A-10.

English will lead George Mason into battle against teams such as Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure this coming season, hoping to gain back some of that magic. 

"As a giant killer," English said of how he would describe Patriot basketball in current day. "Young university, young program, 15 miles outside of the most powerful city in the world, Washington, D.C. We're smack dab in the middle of the most fertile recruiting in the world. The absolute best high school prospects in the country live right here in a 50-mile radius of our campus."

George Mason is where English's former boss, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, got his first head coaching job in 1987. After English's professional playing career ended in 2015, he was hired as an assistant coach at Tulsa. He then moved on to Colorado before working under Barnes with the Volunteers.

More:Who was the best athlete on Mizzou's campus in 2020-21?

In each step, English quickly gained a reputation as a rising star in college coaching. 

"I've been preparing for it for a long time," English said of being a head coach. "So I'd always been taking notes on things and focusing on what I liked, what I didn't like of different coaches that I played for, coaches that I worked with.

"And I think that was one of my biggest attributes is that I've got to play for and work with four incredible program-builders — Mike Anderson, Frank Haith, Tad Boyle, Rick Barnes. Four guys virtually that have never been fired, who've had tremendous success at all levels. I got to see what it was like to be a part of very different but very successful programs. And quite frankly, I just nitpick everything that I really liked from all four of those men.

"And that's what we're aspiring George Mason to become."

George Mason head coach Kim English talks with his new team during offseason practice.

Both Anderson and Haith coached English in Columbia, with Haith giving his former player a full-time Division I coaching job in his mid-20s. 

Anderson was part of English's recruitment from the Baltimore area to mid-Missouri. 

"From Mike Anderson, No. 1, the ability to recruit toughness, recruit players that have a bit of an edge from a competitive standpoint," English said. "From his practices, I learned the value of handling the ball, dribbling and passing. From him, I learned the value of how important it is to play the game in practice. It's really not about a bunch of drills. We play the game. You learn through playing the game.

"From Frank Haith, I adapted my offensive philosophy pretty much. We had the No. 1 adjusted offense on KenPom in 2012. I think there's only been two offenses ever in the KenPom era that have been better — I think Villanova in 2018 and maybe Wisconsin in 2015."

There are other Division I head coaches who've helped English grow on the sidelines. One of them is current Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin, even as Martin and English coached for Southeastern Conference rivals over the past two seasons. 

English first met Martin a decade ago at the World University Games in 2011 while playing for USA Basketball. Martin and former Arizona head coach Sean Miller were the team's assistant coaches under Purdue head coach Matt Painter.

Also on Painter's staff for the event were Virginia's Tony Bennett and Marquette's Shaka Smart. 

"I really took that moment to build my relationship with Tony, Shaka and 'Zo," English said. "And I stayed pretty close with all three of those guys since. Just anything, if I see a podcast, I'll share it with them. If they have a great win I'm curious about, we'll talk about it.

"Cuonzo, he's great. He is a great mentor for all young coaches in this game, but especially young coaches of color. He's been a tremendous mentor for me. Outside of coaches that I played (and worked) for, Cuonzo, Shaka and Tony are probably right there as the next three guys that I lean on."

English considers himself a fan of Martin and Missouri basketball nowadays, and he believes the Tigers have more success coming with the East St. Louis, Illinois, native at the helm.

"His teams will always be tough. They will always defend and he's playing a much more modern style," English said of Martin. "He's Big Ten in his blood through and through, and it's really cool to watch him adapt to the game. They're playing a much more modern style.

"Even more than a mentor, he's a resource. He is absolutely a guy that I could call, even as an assistant coach in the league at Tennessee, and ask for advice. We spoke in the midst of what was happening as far as racial injustice in America, in the midst of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. We spoke on all topics. And I love him. I love him to death."

As far as a potential George Mason vs. Missouri matchup being scheduled, English said he is open to playing any high-major team in the country, but a game against the Tigers isn't something he's currently pursuing.

Instead, his focus is on his roster in Fairfax, Virginia, and on the recruiting trail, as it has been every day since being revealed as the Patriots' new head coach March 23. 

"It's been really fun getting to know our guys. It's been fun integrating our staff, with each other and with the community of Fairfax and D.C.," English said. "And it's been really cool getting to meet new prospects that we're trying to bring to the team.

"So it's great. It's all the things you love about being on a basketball team."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.