James Anderson: As Good As Advertised?

DANVILLE, Ark. – When James Anderson walked into the Danville High School gym Tuesday night the focus turned to him despite the fact that he wouldn't take the court for more than two hours. Even though the Caddo Hills and Hackett boys teams were involved in a double overtime thriller the attention of many in the crowd of nearly 600 people was on the future Oklahoma State Cowboy.

Kids of all ages, including players from other teams competing in the Arkansas Class 2A state tournament, cheerleaders from opposing schools and even an administrator from the host school, made sure they didn't leave Tuesday night until they got Anderson's autograph. The McDonald's All-American (which means he is one of the top 24 players in the nation) started signing from almost the time he entered the Danville gym – autographing shirts, caps, pieces of paper, the tournament program and even $1 bills – and didn't stop until he walked out.

Anderson lived up to his billing as a living legend – and possibly one of the greatest basketball players in Arkansas high school basketball history – in leading No. 1-ranked Junction City to an easy 84-30 victory over Bigelow in front of a standing room only crowd at the Danville gym during a first-round Class 2A state tournament game. The host Danville girls team played and lost just prior to Junction City's first-round game, and many of their fans stayed after watching the hometown squad just to see what the most talked about player in the state could do on the court.

They didn't have to wait long to find out. Here's what transpired in the first quarter, and had Anderson signing autographs for nearly 15 minutes after the game (and it would have gone on much longer if he hadn't been pulled away by his head coach):

1) Eight seconds into the game, the 6-6, 190-pound Anderson scored the game's first points on a lay up.

2) Seconds later, playing a wing on Junction City's half-court trap, Anderson makes the first of what would be four steals in the next few minutes.

3) Anderson drills a three-pointer from deep in the corner, right in front of an awestruck Bigelow bench, to put the Dragons up 5-0 just one minute into play.

4) He makes a steal on Bigelow's ensuing possession and finds a teammate, who scores and is fouled. The Junction City player converts the free throw to put the Dragons ahead 8-0 just 1:19 into play.

5) After Bigelow hits a three-pointer, Anderson makes another steal and scores on a driving lay up.

6) The Junction City standout steps into the passing lane for his fourth steal in the first three minutes of the game and goes the length of the floor for a rim-rattling slam dunk which brings the house down.

7) Twenty-five seconds later he finds a teammate with a no-look pass under the basket for another easy two points.

8) Anderson scores on a driving lay up to give Junction City an 18-5 lead.

That, Cowboy fans, all took place in the first 4:07 of Tuesday night's game. Anderson finished the first quarter with 13 points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocked shots.

"I thought I played pretty good. I gave the ball to my teammates and got them involved in scoring early," said Anderson, who would finish with 26 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks without playing a second in the fourth quarter. He was 10-of-10 on two-point field goals, most of which were drives into the lane because Bigelow had no chance of stopping him, and finished 2-of-9 from three-point range.

Junction City head coach Joe Paul Hammett said, "James did a pretty good job of getting a couple (baskets) there early, which he does to normally get us going He didn't look for it quite as much as he usually does but that's because we got the lead. He got several assists there and had several other (passes) go off the hands. I told them that by now you've been playing with him long enough that we all should have our hands up and be ready (for a pass from him).

"He played a little better (than he has been)," Hammett continued. "His outside shot was still a little flat, but it was a little better. The last couple of games it's been real flat."

Anderson and his teammates have but one thing on their mind – and that's winning Junction City's first ever state basketball championship. The school has only been in the state tournament three times, and one of those was last year when the Dragons lost in the 2A quarterfinals.

Getting past Friday night's quarterfinal game (against the winner of Wednesday night's Riverside-Augusta matchup) is Anderson's top priority right now.

"We've just got to come out and keep going hard and go after it," said Anderson, who was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Mr. Basketball for 2006 and will win it for the second time next month unless Michael Jordan finds his way into one of the Arkansas high school state tournaments this week.

"We've got to stay focused," said Anderson, whose team will practice the next two days while staying in Russellville to prepare for Friday night's quarterfinal game. "We just need to put this win behind us and get ready for the next one."

Hammett said, "I think winning a state championship is very important to James, especially with us coming up short last year. I think it's really important to him and all his teammates. But he's been our leader all year and he wants to be a part of that first team to ever win one at Junction City."

A win Friday night would allow the Dragons, now 29-3, to advance into a semifinal game Saturday, and a win there would put them in the state championship game the next week. Arkansas will decide who plays for the state championship in Class 7A through Class A this week, and then all 14 title games (both boys and girls) will be played next Thursday-Saturday in Hot Springs.

"I'm just trying to win a state championship," Anderson said.

Here's betting he does, and that he'll be signing a lot more autographs the next 10 days.

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