The University of South Florida is in Tampa, not too far from where Rashad Anderson grew up. It afforded Anderson the rare opportunity to get to play in front of his hometown family and friends. After all, Rashad chose to go to college 1278 miles north of Lakeland, FL to play his college career. So you could understand why the 6-5 senior was looking forward to a "homecoming" game against the Bulls on Wednesday.
"When you come home it's a tribute so our guys want to play well. It's
one of those things that all our guys think about-- playing well in front of
their home crowd," said fellow senior Denham Brown.
Needless to say Anderson claimed most of UConn's allotment of
tickets for this contest and Rashad was looking forward to putting on a show in
front of his own personal cheering section. Anderson has never been one to shy away from
the limelight and this was the perfect opportunity for the school's best
three-point shooter of all-time to deliver.
It looked like the perfect set up for a storybook ending. I could almost
see the headline "Hometown Hero Shoots Lights Out In Sundome", or something like
But even the best laid plans…Anderson entered the game shooting over 40
percent from three, but struggled in this one. Shots that were normally
automatic went awry and he forced a few others. Rashad had one blocked, got
called for a charge, and was beaten on defense. This was not a typical night for
High School star, who's
been so dependable off Jim Calhoun's bench.
"I felt for Rashad. I felt really bad because Rashad's one of my
favorites," said Calhoun after the game. "And bad is only a momentary thing.
Rashad wanted to be so good tonight. Of all guys who I thought wanted the
limelight at home, it's really unfortunate he didn't have the kind of game he's
capable of having. He's a terrific basketball player… I can tell you folks who
didn't see him play, and I have for four years, including a national
championship, final four and so on…that he's a terrific basketball
With his team struggling against the pesky Bulls, Rashad still managed to
deliver a big shot. South Florida refused to go
away and was still hanging around the lead. The nation's number two team was
having a hard time closing the door for good. But with the lead at 57-49,
delivered a three, his only one of the night, that pushed the lead to 11 and
Robert McCullum's team would never challenge again.
UConn got the "W" but Rashad's line wasn't very "Rashad-like" – 19
minutes, 5 points, 1-8 FG, 1-6 3-pt-FG, 5 points in 19 minutes of
"I missed some shots that you guys always know I normally hit, but it's
like that sometimes," said Anderson while shrugging his shoulders.
Anderson admitted he
might've been pressing a bit and trying too hard but it certainly takes more
than a tough night on the court to faze the sharp-shooting senior from Lakeland.
Just over a year ago after a skin abscess on his leg turned into a
dangerous staph infection, Rashad was laying in a hospital bed wondering if he
would live or die – whether or not his next three would go down was the furthest
thing from his mind.
"Oh man it's a blessing," said Anderson who still get emotional when
talking about his near-death experience. "I always tell these guys who are in my
face all the time back in Storrs, it's still just a blessing to walk this
earth. I mean to go from where I was last year just to be able to play the game
I've been playing my whole life is just a blessing. Going from not knowing if
you're going to live or die --seeing your family members -- seeing my father and
my mother. I vividly remember my parents praying right there by my side so it's
a blessing to still be here."
Anderson has made the best of another chance to
play the game he loves. Rashad had to work himself back into shape and regain
his touch and confidence. He's come out with guns blazing in this his senior
year. Rashad is the nation's leading scorer without a start averaging 13.3
points per game.
"He is the best sixth man in college basketball," Jim Calhoun stated
"He could start at any other school in the Big East or any other team in
the country. Him coming off the bench shows how strong he is as an individual.
To take a backseat position and still do what he's able to do? Which is make
jump shots, play great defense, and make plays," said Brown who will celebrate
senior night with Anderson on Saturday.
Rashad is the practical joker on the team, the one with the infectious
smile, and overflowing confidence. He's the guy that can miss ten in a row but
will make the 11th one to beat you. He's been a joy to watch in Husky
Blue and White for four years. And write this down, he will win more than one
game for UConn in March.
Rashad will leave Storrs as the school's all-time three point
scorer (260), passing names like Gordon, Allen, Smith, and Hamilton along the
way. But I wonder how many of those 260 three-pointers cut right through the
heart of an opponent? My guess is it's a lot and he's hands-down UConn's
all-time leader in daggers thrown and that's something that can't be taught.
Rest-assured it's one of the things Coach Jim Calhoun loves most about his
effective sixth man. He has what college basketball analyst Bill Raftery likes
to call, "onions!" and Raf has used the term more than once to describe the kid
with plenty of gusto.
When he was asked about his poor performance against South Florida,
Anderson reminded reporters he missed some shots he normally makes and then made
this statement, "I'll be back Saturday, Senior Night. I guarantee that. I
One reporter asked Anderson if he could write that in his
publication. "Oh yeah," answered Anderson emphatically and with a big smile,
like he'd have it any other way.
Upon hearing the news about Anderson's "Saturday guarantee", Denham Brown
simply laughed and said, "That's Rashad. That's Rashad."
It is Rashad and it's one of the reasons he's been a
favorite of the UConn faithful for four years.