It wasn't too long ago that a number of people had never heard of Ryan Anderson. Despite being one of the top prospects in the Sacramento area as a sophomore at El Dorado Hills (Calif.) Oak Ridge high school, Anderson's steady growth in height and ability somehow went unnoticed by many of the country's elite programs. While many recruits are hounded as sophomores, the only school to speak with Anderson as a junior was San Jose State – the year Anderson led the Trojans to the Div. II California state championship. But over the course of the past 3 years, everything has changed. He's now one of Cal's all-time greatest players, and a solid NBA Draft Prospect.
For Anderson, attention as a standout basketball prospect began back in 2005. Around his hometown of Sacramento, he was certainly a guy local coaches were talking about in the middle of his junior year. Oak Ridge was arguably the most loaded team in the Sacramento region, with a plethora of seniors, plus a 6-foot-8 junior big man with a solid three-point stroke. That was Anderson.
"As far as getting noticed, that's really when things began kind of clicking for me," Anderson said. "The first time I actually spoke with any college coaches was just before the state championship. One of the coaches from San Jose State saw me, and let me know they liked my game."
"Things started to evolve from there, and it really started to happen quickly after that."
The word started to spread after SJSU – where his parents Jack and Sue attended - opened the door. Pacific, USF, and San Diego State started sending letters, and by the beginning of the summer, USC and Cal were in the hunt. Despite the fact that did not stand 6-foot-11, there was something very intriguing about Anderson at that point. He possessed a tremendous nose for the ball, a great shooting stroke, and could score from anywhere on the court. His play over the summer only backed his abilities, where in July, while playing for Jason Barton and the NorCal Pharaohs, he led the prestigious Reebok BigTime AAU Tournament in scoring.
That's when schools like Virginia, Arizona State, and Gonzaga joined Cal and USC in strongly pursuing the California Div. II Player of the Year.
"When I decided on Cal, I really didn't know how many minutes I'd get or even if I'd play," Anderson recalled, having announced in late September when we were at his house. "I know a lot of people at that time were figuring that Leon (Powe) was going to head to the NBA, and perhaps that's why I chose Cal, but I was really looking forward to playing with him."
The Oak Ridge roster was depleted the following season, and though Anderson did everything he could to push the Trojans to another strong campaign, which included a trio of 50-point games plus a 28.9 points per game average, his high school career ended earlier than expected. Like many of Cal's recruits over the past half-dozen seasons, we were there when Anderson's prep career ended. He was understandably upset.
"The next time you play in a game that means something, you'll be playing at Cal," we told him, finally bringing out a smile.
"After my senior year that summer I played in the SPDL, and that was great, especially with Rod (Benson) playing in the league too. It was really kind of a cool situation, because Rod was leaving Cal and I was just about to start. He gave me a lot of confidence. I think he knew that I could be successful at Cal early on."
"Obviously, it worked out well for me. It was crazy though, with all the injuries and everything during my first year on the team. I never imagined that my first year in college basketball would have gone like that."
Benson, who actually lived with the Anderson's for a short time, knew Anderson was going to be terrific at Cal.
"Seriously, he's really good," Benson said. "If he puts in the work, he could be better than anyone they've had there."
Over the years, Rod has developed a good friendship with Ryan. In one of our stops at the SPDL later that summer, we overheard Benson giving Anderson some sound advice too. As Ryan spoke about his summer conditioning plans, and how he did not want to peak too early, Benson told him to forget that.
"Get as good as you can now – there's no time to waste," Benson said.
Anderson took that to heart. Just 5 months later, he earned the MVP honors of the Great Alaska Shootout, leading Cal to the title by scoring 52 points and grabbing 28 rebounds over three games. Anderson went on to score in double-figures in all but 3 games as a freshman, led Cal in both categories, and finished as the only player in the Pac-10 to place among the Top 5 rebounders and scorers. He set a freshman record by pulling down 269 boards during the year, which broke Powe's mark. He also knocked home 58 three-pointers – the second-highest Cal freshman total ever.
"The highlight of my first year was winning the MVP up in Alaska," Anderson stated. "That was really cool. It was fun. I think our team really had a lot of fun on that trip too. Everyone was fairly healthy too. Another highlight was the win over UCLA in the Pac-10 Tournament, plus beating Stanford and Oregon that first year."
As a sophomore, Anderson stepped up his game even more. He became the only player in the history of Cal basketball to score 500 points and grab 250 rebounds in a season twice, and finished as a first-team All-Pac-10 selection and finalist for the Wooden Award. He was named a second-team All-American by The Sporting News after leading the Pac-10 in scoring, and averaged 21.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while shooting 49.0% from the floor, 41.0% from three-point range and 86.9% from the free throw line. Anderson now ranks 16th all-time on Cal's scoring list, reached double-digits in points in his past 36 games, and is the only Cal player to ever score 600 points and pull down 300 rebounds in one season.
"I guess what I'll remember most about my time at Cal was when things were difficult, we played together as a team," Anderson said proudly. "We didn't have a center when I was a freshman, but we found a way to win some games. This year, we were missing Theo, and at times DeVon, and we overcame that in certain contests. I feel humbled, you know, knowing there were good times and difficult times. I've grown as a player and as a person."
"It was hard because we didn't really have a lot of wins, and that's honestly something that I will always think about. But the wins we did get stood out. They really meant a lot. In fact, I would have traded my numbers for more wins every single time."
After his sophomore year ended, Anderson essentially had a plan laid out for making a decision on the NBA. He admitted that before the season, he felt he would have a chance to make the jump.
"I basically decided before the season that I wasn't going to think about the NBA until my sophomore season ended," Anderson noted. "That was basically the plan. I talked to people around the game, guys that I have trusted for a long time about it. I spent the break in Santa Cruz with my parents, relaxing too. I wasn't really planning to make a decision there, but in a way, I guess it did happen."
"The main reason I made the decision is that beyond the fact that playing in the NBA has been a goal of mine for a long time, I feel I'm ready and the time is right. That's really what it came down to. I'm ready to work and get after it."
"It isn't a final decision. I feel fortunate that way, you know, that I have the time to collect data on where I could go. I really do want to find out as much as I can. But I also feel I'm being informed by plenty of people who have been down this road before."
"Right now, the feedback has been really great, and I think if I work really hard and train to get myself even stronger, I'll be able to move even more than where I am right now. So for me, its all about moving up in the first round."
"My mom and dad have been real supportive. They are respectful of my decision, as I knew they would be. My family is the best."
BearTerritory will have more with Anderson as he ventures in to the 2008 NBA Draft process.