Senior Days are always emotional. For BeeJay Anya, the gravity of the situation as he was announced to the crowd prior to the game’s opening tip went deeper than he could have possibly anticipated.
Anya was handed the starting nod at center for his final home game against Virginia Saturday in PNC Arena. NC State head coach Mark Gottfried, also coaching in his final home game with the Wolfpack, elected to hand Anya the start despite his season and his career having its ups and downs.
“That's the right thing to do for him,” Gottfried said after NC State’s loss to Virginia. “I'm not a guy who usually does all of that for Senior Day, but BeeJay is different. He is the blocked shots leader for our school.”
Unfortunately for the outgoing senior, his family had not arrived in time to participate. Anya was emotional at the absence of his mother and sister, but he had help from his “other family.”
The entire NC State team walked out with Anya as a show of support for him. Several players, especially longtime teammate Lennard Freeman, were visibly emotional as well.
“It was realizing that I'd been here for four years and it's coming to an end,” Anya said when describing his emotions prior to the game. “I was a little upset that my mom wasn't here on time, she was a little late coming from home.
“Those guys are like my closest friends. Growing up -- I have three sisters -- I never had any brothers. Having them is like having brothers. Being with them four years, our friendship, brotherhood will last a lifetime.”
He reserved special praise for Freeman.
“It's not a friendship, it's a brotherhood,” Anya said of Freeman. “We're like brothers. We played on the same AAU team in high school, four years of being here, we have a bond that's unbreakable. He'll probably be the best man in my wedding in a few years whenever I get married. Me and him, we're inseparable. I love him."
Anya has straddled the fence between remarkable achievements and untapped potential while at NC State.
He is the architect of perhaps NC State’s second or third-most famous shot in NCAA Tournament history, a left-handed hook shot to cap an improbable rally and lead the Wolfpack past LSU in 2015. He also was named ACC Sixth Man of the Year in 2015 and will leave as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots.
Yet his conditioning has been a constant source of consternation for coaches and fans. He has been overweight for all of the current season and much of his college career, leaving many to wonder how great he truly could have been.
Despite all of that, Anya ultimately is appreciative of the support he has received from NC State students and fans.
In return for that support, Anya hoped to show off a certain hidden skill.
“I was trying to shoot my first career three in PNC,” Anya said. “That's what I was trying to do. I'd been practicing on the gun all week. but coach couldn't get me in the last thirty seconds of the game."
"I guess I'll leave my college game with no three-ball,” Anya added with a wide smile. “I'd probably make it too. I'm probably one of the best three-pointers on the team but you guys don't know that."
What Anya will also leave with is the memories of good and bad times at NC State. The Wolfpack fans also share in those trials and tribulations but Gottfried hopes that in the end he will succeed and Wolfpack Nation respects what he has done in his career.
“BeeJay, I think he's a great young guy,” Gottfried said. “I'll always be pulling for him. I've been frustrated with his conditioning, body, those things, but I hope he knows, and I think he does, that's the business side of what we do. That's different than the personal side of what we do. It is what it is now and I thought he did a nice job today, a really nice job.”
“I think our people should always appreciate BeeJay,” Gottfried said in conclusion. “There's a frustration there too with his conditioning, but my hope is he gets his degree and graduates from NC State. That's my number one hope for him. I hope our fans appreciate him and the contributions he's made. He's meant a lot.”