Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Now Playing the Point and Preparing for NBA, UCLA’s Anderson Returns Home to Face Duke
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NEW YORK — Kyle Anderson came into UCLA as a highly touted point guard who might join his teammate Shabazz Muhammad in the one-and-done department.
But something happened on the way to that seemingly inevitable plan.
The 6-foot-9 Anderson spent his freshman season under former coach Ben Howland relegated to the wing and the power forward position while Larry Drew II ran the point.
While Howland was fired for failing to live up to UCLA’s lofty expectations despite an NCAA Tournament appearance, and Muhammad departed for the NBA, Anderson returned for his sophomore season under new coach Steve Alford.
Now, as Anderson makes his second trip to the New York area in as many years, he has returned to his natural position — the point — and is poised to enter the NBA Draft after this year.
“Kyle is totally prepared mentally to come out,” Kyle Anderson Sr. told SNY.tv this week in advance of the Duke-UCLA game Thursday at Madison Square Garden. “He knows he’ll have to get adjusted to the rigors and physicality of the NBA but mentally he’s always been a little more mature than the average age he’s at.
“His approach to the game right now is that of a person who knows this is going to be my job, this is going to be my livelihood.”
Freed to run the point under Alford, Anderson is averaging close to a triple-double for the Bruins (9-1) — 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists.
In fact, he already has one triple-double under his belt. On Nov. 22, Anderson went for 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against Morehead State, marking UCLA’s first triple-double since Toby Bailey did it in 1995.
“We’re doing a really good job of valuing and taking care of the ball and that always starts with the guy that initiates your offense and Kyle has a lot do with that,” Alford said this week.
Alford added: “He’s very versatile. We still play him at the small forward spot or big guard spot when we go to four guards. When we sub, he immediately goes to that big guard…He’s doing that for us but we knew from day one that we wanted to put him at the point guard position because it gave us something that very few people in the country have, and that’s somebody 6-9. You’re preparing for a 6-9 point guard. You may think you can get up in him, but you’re going to have to prepare for somebody that’s 6-9.
“We can post him, we we can do an awful lot out of him. He sees over people. He’s a great passer, he thinks pass-first. We’ve wanted him in that position from Day 1 and through 10 games he’s done an outstanding job proving he can play that.”
Anderson is also an improved shooter. He’s shooting 51 percent from the field compared with 42 percent last season, and 60 percent from the arc compared with 21 percent a year ago.
“He had a little bit of a hitch to it and now it’s all free-flowing,” Alford said of Anderson’s jumper. “A jump shot should be all one smooth happening, and I think he’s got that right now.”
Anderson never publicly complained about playing out of position last year under Howland, but it’s clear he’s more comfortable with the ball in his hands. He has, after all, won four national championships at various levels of ball — including back-to-back New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles and national championships of one kind or another — under Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony.
“If it’s his choice he’s much better with the ball in his hands,” his father said. “I think everybody who watched him grow up knows that he’s better with the ball in his hands.”
Said Anderson: “Yeah, definitely. I like the offense to run where it requires us to be open and I make the right play.”
Coming out of St. Anthony, there were questions about what position Anderson would play in college, and more importantly, what position he would defend.
As he heads toward the NBA, those same questions persist.
NBA scouts, executives and draft gurus are wildly split on where Anderson will or should go in the draft.
One veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv “15-25,” while another said “second round.”
DraftExpress.com currently has Anderson listed as the No. 55 overall pick in 2014, while Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com had a mock draft with Anderson at No. 60 out of 60 potential picks — basically a Mr. Irrelevant.
“There’s a chance that Kyle could play horrendous the rest of this year and be a second-round draft pick,” Kyle Anderson Sr. said. “That’s not going to change our strategy. We know that he just needs a chance to play for a team, and like all the teams he’s played for, he can help you win. His draft position is not a reason why he’s coming or staying. He’s coming out regardless. It has nothing to do with his draft position.
“Do we want him to be as high as possible for the financial part? Sure. But then again there’s the flipside. If he’s lower, that means he’s being picked up by a better team, which means he doesn’t have to come in and be productive. He can sit behind some good players and learn the game…We don’t financially need the money. People need to know that. We are not pressed for the money, so he is not coming out because he wants to make millions. Now does he want to make millions? Yeah, it’s his profession, but that’s not the reason. He’s coming out because it’s time. He’s ready to go play in the NBA.”
With that said, Kyle Sr., says he’s talked to NBA personnel who have his son pegged in the late lottery or mid-first round.
ESPN.com draft guru Chad Ford has Anderson in the early second round, but said all of these disparaging projections stem from the fact that NBA personnel just aren’t quite sure what to make of Kyle Anderson.
“Oh, don’t ask me about Kyle Anderson,” Ford told SNY.tv. “He’s the most confusing to project to the NBA. He’s the most confusing player that I’ve seen. I love watching him play. I think he’s a brilliant basketball player. I think Boris Diaw is about as close as I can get to an NBA player who’s sort of played a little bit like him. If he turned into a great NBA player or was an absolute bust, I would take even on both of those things because he’s a really good basketball player, but he doesn’t do a lot of things that you typically think about an NBA player doing at his size. He’s really a point guard at 6-10…
“What most [scouts] say is, we haven’t figured him out yet and it might be a very specific fit for him with a team where a team says we think we can play him this way. Our coach runs sets where our bigs can handle the ball a little bit.”
For his part, Anderson isn’t thinking about any of this confusing stuff right now.
He’s just looking forward to coming home and playing Duke at the Garden.
“I’m looking forward to this week, period,” Anderson said. “Just being in New York for those two, three days and then finally Thursday comes and we’re ready to get it going. Duke’s a great team, the Garden’s going to be ecstatic how it always is and I’m just excited to play in front of my friends and family.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.