Laid back Anderson vastly underrated

He is in his second year as a tri-captain and a guy who started all 34 games a year ago. He averaged 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds as a junior and he shot 42% from beyond the arc. Yet, even with all of what he has done so right, Arizona's senior power forward Rick Anderson is the forgotten man when it comes to talking about the Wildcats who will make an impact in 2003.

Going into what will be his fifth year in the Arizona program, Rick Anderson has pretty much experienced it all. As a freshman in 1999, the Jason Terry-led Wildcats lost in the NCAA's first round to Oklahoma as a four seed. A year later it was the same feeling of disappointment when the top-seeded Wildcats – decimated by injuries – were beaten by Wisconsin in the second round of the tournament.

Two years and a 1-2 Tournament record. Was this why he came to Arizona, a team that was coming off of the 1997 National Championship and a berth in the Elite Eight the year after? Seasons full of expectation had essentially gone down the drain with the premature exits in the NCAA's.

Rick Anderson redshirted the next year, which happened to be the year that Arizona made it all the way to the 2001 National Championship game before bowing out to Duke. Wouldn't you know it, the year Ricky sits out to do what's best for himself and for the team, the Wildcats get to the Final Four.

Bad luck.

During the course of his redshirt year, Wildcat associate head coach Jim Rosborough was quoted in the local papers as saying that not only had Anderson improved tremendously but that he would be "an All-Amreican before he left Arizona". Pretty high praise considering he was talking about a guy who had only averaged 3.7 points per game for his career to that point.

Needless to say, coach Roz's words had Wildcat fans pretty excited about the ‘new-and-improved' Ricky Anderson.

At the beginning of last year, Anderson, now a fourth-year junior, was one of only three upperclassmen on Arizona's entire roster. He was going to be counted on for leadership and increased production as the team's starting power forward. With five true freshmen in the eight-man rotation, he had very little choice but to do so.

As it turned out, the beginning of the season started out well enough for both Anderson and for Arizona. The Wildcats "upset" second-ranked (and eventual National Champion) Maryland in their first game and followed that up a night later by beating No. 5 Florida to capture the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic championship. Anderson played a big role, especially in the win over Florida when he scored Arizona's final four points in what turned out to be a four-point Wildcat victory.

Roz was looking like a genius already.

However, what happened over the course of the season was that Anderson struggled with foul trouble, inconsistency on offense and a lack of defensive quickness on the perimeter. It was the defensive problems that stood out, especially against teams with athletic big men that he was forced to guard.

"We need to have a more consistent defensive effort out of (Ricky) this year," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said. "In the offseason, he has worked very hard on his strength to where he now needs to put a more solid defensive effort on the opposing power forward."

Although Anderson was hampered by a strained hamstring during the offseason which limited him to just four appearances in the Wildcats' 10-game tour of Australia this summer, he is now fully healthy and noticeably stronger.

"Going into the year," Olson said. "Rick's strengths are his shooting and his offensive board work."

Anderson will have to get the most out of his strengths while simultaneously improving his defense because big things are expected out of him and this Arizona team once again in 2002-03.

After being eliminated by Oklahoma for the second time in last year's NCAA Sweet 16, the Wildcats return everyone and are the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Anderson doesn't want to miss another chance at a Final Four or a National Championship.

"We're a lot deeper that we were (in 2001's NCAA runner-up year)," Anderson said. "I don't know about more athletic because we had Richard (Jefferson) and Gilbert (Arenas) but we are definitely a lot deeper and we have three seniors in me, Jason (Gardner) and Luke (Walton). We have a lot of experience and leadership and that will be a key this year."

Anderson will take on more of a leadership role this year with the Wildcats having nine of its 13 scholarship players as underclassmen.

"It's my job to be more of a leader for the young guys," he said. "When someone is down I have to bring them up and make everything as positive as I can for them. I like that a lot. I like to teach and help the young guys."

Rick Anderson is a very important component of this year's team and his improvement will be a big factor in whether or not Arizona lives up to the expectations and gets to New Orleans for the Final Four this April. But from all the hype surrounding his teammates, you would never believe that Anderson is anything other than an afterthought.

Gardner and Walton, his fellow seniors and tri-captains, are on just about everyone's preseason All-American lists and both are favorites to battle for the Wooden Award as this year's national Player of the Year as well. Andreson is the "other senior".

Even more than being overshadowed by Jason and Luke is the fact that a lot of Wildcat fans and preseason publications are downplaying Anderson's role in 2003 and/or flat out handing his starting spot over to incoming freshmen Andre Iguodala or Hassan Adams. The reasoning behind which is because the two freshmen are decidedly more athletic and better defensively on the perimeter than Anderson is. It's hard to argue those claims but what most fail to realize is that because of this team's depth this year, Anderson's role takes on a whole new dynamic.

How quickly people forget the facts that Rick Anderson scored 15 or more points a dozen times last year or that he had eight games in which he pulled down double-digit rebounds. His six double-doubles tied for second on the team along with sophomore center Channing Frye and behind Walton's nine. Throw in his .490 (23-47) shooting percentage from three-point range in Arizona's final 19 games and suddenly Anderson's improvement from his sophomore year, his redshirt year and through his junior year is enormous.

While Roz's All-American prediction hasn't come true to this point, he was undoubtedly right on in his claim that Anderson was the team's most improved player. And if Anderson's improvement is anywhere near as steep between his junior and senior year as it was from sophomore to junior, Roz still may wind up looking like a genius.

Actually becoming an All-American seems far-fetched but the guess here is that Anderson will be a much, much better player while at the same time playing fewer minutes than he did last year (29.4 per game). Here's why:

Last year, Anderson's defensive shortcomings and lack of quickness were exploited when he was forced to guard guys like Oregon's Luke Jackson, Connecticut's Caron Butler, USC's Sam Clancy and Drew Gooden from Kansas. All of those forwards, with the possible exception of Gooden, are natural three-men and play more of a slash-to-the-basket kind of game. That's not Ricky's style but he was forced to do his best against those guys anyway.

That won't be the case in 2003. Now Arizona will use its depth to take advantage of match-ups and no one will benefit from that more than Anderson will.

Instead of guarding someone like Luke Jackson twice this year, Arizona will now insert the ultra-athletic (with size) duo of "HassAndre" while allowing Anderson to concentrate solely on defending Ducks' power forward Robert Johnson.

It's not a hard concept to grasp. In fact, it's very simple: Quick forwards will see HassAndre while more post-oriented forwards get Anderson. What's even better is that because Jackson will have to match-up defensively against Iguodala or Adams, it will allow Anderson to utilize his outside game offensively against defenders that are not in their comfort zone out on the perimeter (see, Robert Johnson or UCLA's TJ Cummings).

Rick had to go through that last year and now it's his turn to take it out on other team's this year. What goes around comes around.

The 6-9, 230-pound forward from Long Beach, probably won't put up huge numbers because of the depth Arizona has and the fact that more bodies means fewer minutes. But it shouldn't be surprising at all to see Anderson become far more efficient than he was a year ago.

His shooting percentages will likely increase across the board thanks to his advantage over most of the defenders he'll be up against, and he'll be able to stay in the post more on defense to up his rebounding totals. That's what Arizona wanted out of him anyway, to take his (big) man outside to free up space offensively and to hit the boards underneath defensively.

Anderson is noticeably more relaxed going into this season that he was a year ago. A lot of that is due to the fact that he knows that this team's depth and talent level is great enough to make him not have to shoulder as much of a load as he did last year. Instead of worrying about going up against guys like Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox or Udonis Haslem like he did at this point last year, he knows now that the match-ups are likely in his favor this season.

Maybe that's why he's been enjoying himself while playing Led Zeppelin and old Eddie Van Halen on his Gibson guitar for hours at a time each night. Or why he can just relax every Sunday afternoon with his two roommates and Arizona football placekicker Sean Keel at The Gallery or Arizona National Golf Course on his off days.

"I try to play (the guitar) at least an hour every night," said Anderson, who serenaded teammate Isaiah Fox with his version of Eric Clapton's ‘Wonderful Tonight' at last year's team banquet. "That and golfing help me to get my mind off of basketball and enjoy myself. I'm a six handicap but right now I'm at an eight because my game hasn't been very good."

Anderson will enjoy the Sunday trips to the links for the next few weeks until the season starts and then it's all business for the fifth-year senior. A spot in the starting lineup still has his name on it and he has no intention of letting it go.

Contact Ben Hansen at

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