Alan Anderson has learned a lot of things about playing professional basketball.
“It’s been a ride,” he says of his winding basketball career. “A long ride.”
Talking with Anderson is refreshing. He’s honest, thoughtful and he understands the type of things we media types need from a veteran player on the team. When it comes to quotes on his teammates, he’s quickly becoming the go-to guy.
On Sunday night when he was asked what Kyle Lowry brings to the team — after pouring in 22 points on 8-for-10 field goals, seven rebounds (four offensive), five assists and three steals — Anderson gave the quote that appeared in every beat writer’s story the next day.
“He’s a bull,” Anderson said. “He’s just a bull. His height doesn’t tell a lot about him because he acts like he’s seven feet out there. He’s not scared of nothing. He’s going to get in there, get on the floor, he’s getting rebounds with seven footers and he’s fighting each possession. Every time you see that from the bench or you see that as a young player, it’s like, ‘Damn, I’ve gotta get ready.’ He’s a very outspoken player also. He’s great for the whole team and organization.”
It’s a shame that words don’t convey emotion, because the emphasis Anderson added when he described Lowry needs to be noted. While great quotes will keep his name appearing in game stories this season, it would be a shame if Anderson’s own story isn’t given the attention it deserves.
Returning to the NBA after a four-year absence last year to play 17 games for a Raptors team that was in the ugliest phase of a rebuild, this season is a gift that Anderson cherishes every day. In a world where nothing is for certain, this season is guaranteed. Anderson earned a veteran’s minimum contract this season and is extremely grateful to not have to worry about where he’ll be living in a month’s time.
Dwane Casey has repeatedly praised both Anderson and John Lucas III’s grit and determination when talking about their respective paths back to the NBA after playing internationally. A lot of guys aren’t able to stick in the NBA and end up overseas to play and earn a paycheck. Not as many are able to complete the circle and end up back in the league. It’s clear that Casey respects the work ethic and perseverance of both of his guys.
How winding is Anderson’s basketball journey? After playing on a Michigan State team that made it to the Final Four in 2005 and being voted as the team MVP by teammates and media during his senior year, Anderson went undrafted in the 2005 NBA Draft, was drafted into the CBA and then picked up by the Charlotte Bobcats where he spent two seasons flipping between the Bobcats and the D-League Tulsa 66ers. After that NBA stint came a season playing for La Fortezza Bologna, NBA Summer League with the Memphis Grizzlies, then a Russian club, a stop in Croatia, and an appearance on the Lakers’ Summer League team. The next year he made his way to Maccabi Tel Aviv and then returned to the United States where he was drafted to the D-League’s New Mexico Thunderbirds with the second-overall pick in the 2010 NBA D-League Draft. In December of that same season, Anderson returned to Europe, signing with Regal FC Barcelona in Spain. Shortly after, Anderson was off to China. From there, he returned to the D-League to play for the Canton Charge in Ohio before being picked up by the Raptors last season on two separate 10-day contracts and then a contract for the rest of the season.
Make it through that, okay? He said it’s been a ride. He wasn’t exaggerating. Anderson has traveled this world over time and again chasing out his hoop dream and now that he’s back in the NBA, he’s doing his damnedest to ensure that he stays.
Looking to speak with him after a game? Better get ready to camp out in the locker room, because Anderson’s post-game stretch, whirlpool and icing routine takes awhile. Want to grab him before the game and you’ll usually be out of luck because after shooting on the main court with his teammates, he often sneaks upstairs to get in a private session on the practice court. While his younger teammates poke fun at him, Anderson knows a struggle that — with the exception of Lucas — the other 13 guys in the locker room haven’t seen.
“With playing so many different places I’ve learned that you’re only going to go as much as you take care of your body,” Anderson explained. “What you put in your body is going to show, how you take care of your body is everything. Treat it great and it’ll try to treat you great. I have to stretch, I have to ice, I have to eat right. I have to do everything before I do anything. They [teammates] always mess with me, say I’m the last one here, but that’s fine with me. As long as I wake up the next day and I don’t get up like some of the other guys, feeling sore, I’m fine. As long as I’m doing everything I can to get ready for the next day, that’s all I’m worried about.”
Playing in the NBA is blessing. A privilege that younger players sometimes take for granted. Anderson’s doing his best to pass along this simple wisdom to his teammates.
“Most of the guys ask me why I stretch so much and I tell them it’s because I want to play for a long time,” Anderson said. “When I’m done playing I don’t want to be broke down, can’t walk normal or can’t play with my kids. Nobody wants to play basketball not feeling good.”
During the preseason, the Raptors played a game against Real Madrid. In 2009, Anderson was with the Tel Aviv team that played an exhibition game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. To be on the flip side, back in the NBA and hosting a European team, the significance wasn’t lost on Anderson.
“Crazy,” Anderson said, when asked about how things have changed since 2009. “Coming back (to face an NBA team) it almost feels like you’re back again. Lights a little bit brighter, everything is that much more first class. It feels good to come back and play against an NBA team. You want to prove to them that you’re capable of being here.”
The work doesn’t lessen now that he’s proven himself, either. If anything, it has increased because there’s more to lose now.
“I just know it’s a privilege to be back here,” Anderson explained. “Not a lot of guys get second chances and I already know that.”
Another reason Casey’s a fan: Anderson knows and understands his role on this team.
“My approach is different now versus playing overseas because overseas I was always the main guy,” Anderson said. “Here I know I’m not. It’s maybe harder, not harder, but more preparation, a different transition and different mindset being the man versus being a role player.”
When you talk with Anderson about the detours in his basketball career, the biggest takeaway is his passion for the game and his appreciation for everything and everyone –teammates, coaches, front office types, experiences that make him tougher, struggles he’s had to endure — that has helped him get to where he is right now, making a home in Toronto.
“I’m just happy to be back here,” he said. “Man… I’m just so happy, so humbled, so blessed to be back here. You can’t even imagine. Like, I just know everything I’ve been through and it’s like, the stories I have, crazy stories, you couldn’t even imagine some of the stuff.”
“It just feels so good to be back. Every time I pull into my parking spot here…” With a smile and a shake of his head, he continued slowly for emphasis, “I’ve got my own security key to put into the arena. Things like that, it’s just amazing to me. It’s amazing. Makes me feel good. Hard work pays off.”