Ryan Anderson - Diamond in the Rough

By Steffi Chan, Daily Cal Staff Writer
This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Wednesday, March 12, 2008.
Click here for original version.

Reprinted by permission.

Ryan Anderson may have his junior high teammates to thank for his prolific scoring ability.

Today, the 6-foot-10 sophomore talent is widely considered to be one of the best-and most underrated-amateur players in the nation.

Seven years ago, he spent time as the laughingstock of his middle school basketball team.

A seventh grader on the eighth grade squad, Anderson's potential was recognized but not fully developed. During one pregame shootaround, Anderson caught the ball and hoisted a jump shot into the air-from his waist.

'The whole team was making fun of me. I was devastated,' says a wide-eyed Anderson, before breaking out into a good-natured grin. 'I couldn't shoot at all. I remember the first three I made was a bank at the buzzer at one game. I didn't even mean to make it. Nobody had taught me how to shoot-I kind of did it on my own.'

Traumatized by the experience, Anderson fashioned his jump shot after the best player from that eighth-grade team, and gradually molded it into what is now one of the most effective strokes in the Pac-10.

'He shot it by his shoulder, and I kind of stole it from him and made it into my own shot,' says Anderson. 'I got a little rhythm and I brought it up as I got bigger and stronger.'

The power forward still showcases a unique-looking jumper, often slinging the ball from his side from far beyond the arc without much elevation off the floor.

But there is no one laughing at him now.

Recently named to the first-team All Pac-10 squad as well as the second-team All-America squad by the Sporting News, the El Dorado Hills, Calif., native-who leads the Pac-10 in scoring with 21.5 points per game-has become nationally recognized as one of the conference's most dangerous offensive weapons.

Not that Anderson pays too much attention. Down-to-earth and unassuming, Anderson is anything but the prima donna one might expect a player of his caliber to be. He looks down at his hands and laughs awkwardly when asked to comment on his recent heap of accolades, which includes being one of the 24 finalists for the prestigious John R. Wooden Award.

'I've always just kind of played and not really tried to look at the awards,' says Anderson. 'I mean, it's awesome, it's a great honor, but I'm just playing.'

The national attention has caught the 19-year-old somewhat off guard. After all, Anderson flew under the radar coming out of high school as well as much of his freshman year at Cal, despite leading the Bears in points and rebounds.

'I always just kind of play my game-I'm a scorer, a rebounder,' says Anderson. 'That's how I fuel myself to go every game and coaches have noticed that.'

The recognition has come at a price. It might have taken awhile, but opposing coaches have finally caught on. Consequentially, Anderson has faced double teams, lock-down defenders and defensive schemes tailored to contain him all year.

Anderson's former eighth-grade teammates might be surprised to discover just how much attention he is drawing-not only from opposing coaches and players, but from national media and NBA scouts as well.

Projected by some mock drafts to be a first-round pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Anderson now faces the task of deciding between his third campaign with the Bears and leaving for the professional ranks.

Standing at a crossroads, he knows that the time for children's play is coming to an end.

'This has just been a really weird process,' says Anderson. 'I'm finally getting some attention and it's paying off, but it never really came true in my head that this would all be happening so fast.'

Anderson does not have too much time to put off thinking about his future. Unless the Cal men's basketball team makes a miraculous run and wins the Pac-10 tournament, the season will be over in less than a week. Anderson is determined not to start considering a career in the NBA until then. But it hasn't been that easy.

'It's tough when people call you and try to get information from you or say this or that about what they read on the Internet,' says Anderson. 'It's hard to keep from looking at (mock drafts) because my friends let me know. They're definitely excited. Nobody really expected me to do so well so early in my career.'

And yet, Anderson has managed to carry his team on his back for two straight years.

The frustration arising from suffering through consecutive losing seasons has been evident. But for Anderson, who says he loves the college life, the losing records are incentives for him to return for another year.

'If anything, it makes me want to stay and win games, and know what that feels like,' says Anderson.

If he elects to stay for his junior year, he has another chance to pursue what every collegiate athlete plays for: an NCAA championship. If he declares for the draft, he gets a head start at fulfilling what he calls a 'dream come true.'

Regardless of whether he chooses to stay or leave, one thing is clear: there is no more flying under the radar now.

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