“I used to sleep in the gym my old high school just named after me.”
There have been more highly touted players that have played at the University of Kentucky. There have been better shooters, better passers and maybe even better dunkers (though I doubt it). But there haven’t been any players that have lived as inspiring of a life as former Wildcat standout, Derek Anderson.
I grew up in Louisville around the same time as Anderson, with him being a few years my senior, and I remember hearing about this skinny kid at Doss High School that could flat out play. I watched him a few times his senior season and remember thinking how fearless he was on the court and how relentlessly he attacked the basket at every opportunity. It was if we was two or three steps ahead of everyone else on the court. It was very surprising when Anderson signed with Ohio State, presumably to fill the shoes of the just graduated Jim Jackson. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out for Derek in Columbus and after his sophomore year, he decided “to come home.” And just about everyone in the 502 area code was surprised when home meant Lexington and the University of Kentucky.
After sitting out a year due to NCAA regulations for his transfer, Derek Anderson got to play for the 1995-96 Wildcats. The NCAA Champion Wildcats, one of the best collegiate teams ever assembled. And DA delivered. With tenacious defense and a smooth offensive game, he made the All NCAA Regional team in helping the Cats win title No. 6. And the next season, he started out even better, teaming with Ron Mercer and giving UK the best 1-2 punch in the nation. But, after 19 games, in a game against Auburn, Anderson his ACL. But he didn’t give up. He continued working through his rehab, returning to shoot two technical free throws in the Final Four (one of the classier moves by former head man Rich Pitino). And also leading to one of the better what-ifs in UK history: What if DA had given us just 15 minutes against Arizona? Still, I respect Pitino by valuing Anderson’s future and not risking further injury by playing him.
Anderson was drafted 13th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and ended up playing the better parts of 12 years in the NBA. His career highlight was partnering with former UK teammate Antoine Walker and helping the Heat win the 2005-06 NBA title. Though injuries plagued him most of his career, Anderson never gave up and never stopped being relentless.
And he’s taken that attitude from the basketball court and is using it to help others that are in the same situation he was in. He’s written a book Stamina, chronicling his own life circumstances and how he overcame them. He’s started his own foundation to help disadvantaged youth. And on top of all that, he was in Lexington to comfort another UK star that suffered a midseason ACL tear and let him know that everything would be OK.
Derek Anderson bleeds Blue and he’s a Wildcat for life and he truly is an inspiration to everyone, both inside and outside of the Big Blue Nation