UCLA Basketball: The Anderson Analogy

As I read the so-called experts pontificating about the UCLA basketball program it no longer shocks me how clueless they are in trying to analyze recent history.  Or how they miss the point on the future.  But this one from a few weeks back drove me crazy on multiple levels (emphasis mine):

Jones is not a great shooter, as evidenced by his 39% shooting percentage. This was his first year at UCLA after two seasons at John A. Logan College. The Bruins will need him to approach his Logan average of 14.5 ppg and 5.7 apg. 

Jerime Anderson (5.1 ppg, 2.6 apg) will need to provide senior leadership as well. Anderson’s playing time and stats actually dropped during his junior year, so he must prove that his development has not stalled.

Jones was hurt you num-skull and was a very good shooter before he hurt both hands.  But the knock on Anderson is even worse.  All who actually watched UCLA would agree that his junior year was his best year, by far.  And as I was thinking about it, it made me realize that Anderson is in many ways the symbol of the last three years. 

 After a run of three consecutive final fours, the last three years for UCLA basketball have been a completely different experience.  The best symbol of that experience may be the only player still left from all those teams, Jerime Anderson. 

2008-09 Angry Anderson

In his freshman year, UCLA was ranked preseason number 4.  But even higher ranked was the recruiting class, number one in the nation.  Obviously this team and class was way over-hyped and over-ranked.  It was also a team full of disgruntled players who may not have really liked each other or CBH.   This was especially obvious among the freshmen.  Gordon had incredible ability but a bad attitude.  Morgan had an incredible body but thought showing up was enough.  Holiday, although playing a lot of minutes, was never happy as a 2 guard. 

And for his part Anderson was upset as well.  Anderson was mad at the start when Darren Collison made the then surprising decision to stay for his senior season.  Anderson wanted to play now!  Anderson's attitude may have had further repercussions because Jrue Holiday, one of the best freshman PG recruits in the country, was playing only the 2 guard spot.  Collision was the undisputed team leader and PG, while Anderson was his only backup.  One wonders why CBH never gave Holiday anytime at the PG position.  While it may have been to keep Anderson happy, it may also have been to keep Holiday from causing trouble and to focus on the good of the team.

But with massive apologies to Malcolm Lee, this freshman class and maybe the entire team was not interested in the good of the team.  Just as Anderson could not see that a preseason All American like DC returning should always be a good thing; the 2008-09 freshman only cared about themselves. 

While the team was good, it was no final four team or anything close.  Despite having two future NBA PGs in the starting lineup, the team had so many chemistry issues on offense that CBH felt forced to start Nikola Dragovic for extra offense.  Holiday and DC never clicked and the rest of the "fab five" did not contribute at all that season. 

In other words, it seemed the season can be summed up as a disappointment where the young players did not contribute the way they should and the chemistry was not there.  UCLA was blown out in the NCAA tournament by Villanova in the second round. 

2009-10 Careless Anderson

Of course, the kids did not learn anything. Although Holiday said nice things about UCLA last season during the CAL game, he left in a huff and it shocked CBH.   The 2009-10 team was turned over to Anderson to be the PG, Gordon to be the leading inside player, and Malcolm Lee to be the defensive stopper.  If Morgan could step up and start playing like his body said he should and with a freshman small forward in Tyler Honeycutt that is a likely first round draft pick, this could/should have been a good team.   

But of course it was a disaster.  Honeycutt had an excuse as he was hurt.  But Morgan tried to emulate the wrong famous UCLA graduate, Jim Morrison, and not Bill Walton.  Morgan played himself not only out of any chance of the starting lineup but any chance of playing.  UCLA started five different players at center in 09-10 campaign because of injuries.  Yet Morgan, the only true center on the roster, never started. 

Morgan was not the biggest disappointment.  Gordon fought with everyone and got kicked off the team.  But I would argue the worst player was Anderson.  Anderson reportedly spent a lot of time with Morgan not practicing basketball in the off season.  He was given the PG position, arguably the most important in basketball and the most prestigious during CBH's tenure.  He had no backup.  And yet he played so badly he was benched.  Anderson was officially benched at one point for failing to make his sessions with the trainer for his  nagging groin injury.  This was a perfect symbol of Anderson's effort, he could even be bothered to show up for a trainer trying to help with his injury.

Because of Anderson, MR, and Dragovic, UCLA was forced to play a zone.  The team was just too slow  to play man-to-man defense.  Anderson's only defensive move was to let the player dribble by him and then go for a poke steal.  It was so ugly.  Against Arizona in UCLA's last man-to-man game, Malcolm Lee shut down Arizona's top player, but Kyle Fogg, not generally considered a threat, scored his career high with Anderson covering him.  UCLA became a zone only team afterwards.

The ultimate symbol of the season was Senior Day against a terrible Oregon team coached by a walking dead man in Ernie Kent.  UCLA had a chance to win the game.  It was Michael Roll's last game, you know he had to take the shot; it was just a matter of whether he was going to make it to have a great personal end to a distinguished UCLA career.  Anderson was called on to dribble the ball up the court and pass to MR.  With no pressure, Anderson threw the ball out of bounds.

What is sometimes missed is how much of an effect Morgan, Anderson, and Gordon had on everyone else.  Malcolm Lee was forced to play PG, not his position, and worse Malcolm Lee was forced to give up the best part of his game, man-to-man defense.  

2009-10 was a disaster because the good players like Malcolm Lee (and Reeves Nelson) were forced to play zone and the wrong positions because of the attitude of people like Gordon, Morgan, and Anderson.  It was the worst season a UCLA coach has ever survived with his job intact.  Anderson was a big part of it and I would argue the symbol the season.

2010-11 Anderson The Team Player and Leader

After that season, CBH's seat was hot.  For the first time since Jack Haley in the 1980s, UCLA recruited a junior college player to play a significant role.  Lazeric Jones became the starting PG.  Although, CBH declared it an open competition it seems obvious that it was Jones' job. 

Based on the first two years, you would expect Anderson to go ballistic and bitch about it, like he did his freshman  year when DC shockingly decided to stay.  Or you would expect him to quit and not try, like he did his sophomore year.  Anderson did something completely different.  Anderson  became something of a leader.

Freshman center Joshua Smith said junior guards Jerime Anderson or Lazeric Jones typically deliver a pregame pep talk.

Anderson who was the worst defender in 2009-10 (yes I realize there is another candidate for this spot) was now talking like this:

"I think that we've come along really great towards the end of the season, defensively especially, and I think that that's really going to help our team in the tournament," UCLA junior Jerime Anderson said. "As long as you play defense, you're going to be in every game. That's what coach preaches to us, and that's what we try to portray out there on the floor."

 Anderson  was not only playing defense the way that CBH wanted but extolling his virtues. 

In 2010-11, Anderson became the sixth man and was even used as a defensive sub.  Anderson never complained and was without a doubt a locker room leader.  He helped keep UCLA in contention to the last week to win the PAC 10 title when the year before he could not even pass the ball to the leading senior.   Bacuse of Anderson, play and leadership, the team met expectations. 

To me Anderson shows a bit of everything good and bad about UCLA basketball these last three years. 

He was over-hyped his freshman year and part of the class that led to the recent tough UCLA years.  His sophomore year he showed that talent is not enough.  If you don't work, you will stink at the college level.  His junior year, he became a defense sub, the sixth man, and a CBH player.  The team liked each other and arguably achieved their potential. 

But here is the long term worry.  Although Anderson is now reaching his potential, he is still not a Pac- 10 12 level starting PG and even when Zeek Jones had injuries to both hands it was arguable who was the better starting PG.  Even if Anderson is or becomes a good starting Pac-10 PG, UCLA should not recruit players who take two years to wake up and start to work toward their potential. 

To me Anderson is a symbol of CBH as a coach. CBH is a great teacher of basketball generally and defense specifically.  He is good at helping players reach their potential and it is why many of his players do well in the NBA.  Anderson is now a good defender and a player reaching his potential. 

But It makes me wonder about CBH as a recruiter.   After years of AA/JF/DC/LRAM/PAA we have players who have mental issues that keep them from reaching their true potential (Drew Gordon  and Tyler Honeycutt for drastically different reasons) and guys who were mis-evaluated (Bobo Morgan and maybe two others on the current team).  Anderson kind of fit in both categories in his first two years.  The question is can CBH recruit both talented and dedicated players? 

But as Anderson showed his junior year, CBH is a very good coach and teacher.  You stick with CBH and you will learn and improve. 

Which brings me to Anderson's fourth year.  The dismissal of assistant coach and recruiter Duncan seemed likes a necessary step.  But ultimately it is CBH's responsibility. This year's team will be "good" but how good will likely be determined by Joshua Smith and Norman Powell's dedication and possibly the ability of Parker to contribute (Parker is a Matthews recruit).  I am optimistic on Smith's ability to lose a bit more weight and play 30 plus minutes a game next year.  It is too early to say on the rest. 

 I am hoping that it all comes together and UCLA's next three year cycle is one that makes all Bruins proud. 

Go Bruins!

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