When I asked Buzz Williams two months ago why Chris Otule had made such a noticeable improvement in his fifth season, the answer was simple: a player who, until last season, had spent more time on the trainer’s table than at the scorer’s table, was finally seeing consistent practice time. At last the majority of his time was spent not with head trainer Ernest Eugene, but with Williams and assistants Brad Autry and Isaac Chew on the court.
He was finally on the court. He finally got to play. And he finally got to show all those who had been in his corner while he was injured just the kind of player he could be and was while he was healthy.
And though Juan Anderson hadn’t suffered like Otule–owner of two broken feet, a torn ACL and an artificial eye–had, we’ll never get to see what the recently transferred junior would have been with a full offseason’s work and a healthy body in a Marquette uniform.
And that’s a shame.
For all the headlines Vander Blue made two weeks ago declaring for the NBA draft, and the surprising turnabout Jake Thomas did–being set to transfer and then returning a week later–Anderson’s decision to transfer from Marquette after two seasons went seemingly under the radar.
On the surface his career 1.5 points, 2. rebounds and 9.5 minutes per game won’t be missed. His career-highs of nine points and nine rebounds–both accomplished in the same game–in 59 games won’t be remembered. But as is the case for most underclassmen in Buzz Williams’ system, Anderson was on the fast-track to breaking out as a junior and senior.
The 6-foot-6 Anderson arrived at Marquette as a top-70 recruit out of Castro Valley H.S. (Calif.), averaging 17.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a senior whose team went 30-2. His wiry frame (he may have weight 210 pounds soaking wet) and Marquette’s depth chart at the time (Jae Crowder, Davante Gardner and Jamail Jones ahead of him) meant that immediate playing time wouldn’t happen, but the talent was undoubtedly there.
But he hit a roadblock before his NCAA career began, being suspended for three games for accepting a ticket to a Brewers playoff game. Once he made his return in the Virgin Islands, Anderson played four games before suffering a shoulder fracture in practice that was supposed to keep him out three weeks.
He wound up missing just one game–Williams said Anderson had never been injured before so he overreacted to the shoulder injury–and, impressively, found his way back into the rotation. Following Chris Otule’s torn ACL, Anderson found spot minutes in 20 other games his freshman season.
And while Anderson may have overreacted to his shoulder as a freshman, there was no doubting how severe a second injury to the same one was in May.
Anderson had surgery before June and was given a timetable of six months to recover, which would have had him set to return sometime in November. Hard work wound up paying off for Anderson, who was back in full-contact practice by the end of September, just in time for Marquette Madness and the official start of practice this past year.
One month before his injury occurred, ex-assistant Aki Collins said, regarding Anderson’s progression, that “April, May, June, July, August are huge for him.” The last three of those “huge” months were spent in a sling.
He admitted to playing catch-up most of the fall and that he had to “teach (himself) how to shoot again” while also making up for lost time in the weight room. That sophomore year Anderson started 31 games, averaged 2.7 points and played impressive defense, playing out of position most of the time.
If this sounds like a mini-version of Otule, it should.
Anderson’s freshman offseason was a full one, but the suspension and shoulder injury slowed his progression. As a sophomore he missed Marquette’s entire offseason workouts, individuals and strength and conditioning drills. By the time he was up to full-speed it was time for Boot Camp and the regular season.
Minutes would have been hard to come by this season, as incoming junior-college transfer Jameel McKay is in line to start at power forward. Jamil Wilson should finally see his minutes as a full-time small forward. Chris Otule and Davante Gardner have the center on lock-down. Plus, sophomore Steve Taylor and incoming freshman Deonte Burton are oozing with talent.
But the same should be said for Anderson. He proved himself more than Jamail Jones or Erik Williams did, was a consistent rebounder and showed signs of life on the jump shot he had to re-teach himself almost a year ago.
There was a spot in Marquette’s rotation for Anderson, just as there was last year when all the same talent returning and incoming was vying for minutes.
If you believe that Anderson truly wants to play closer to home–I had the privilege once to meet his highly supportive mother, Patricia Rice–then this move makes sense. And maybe there will be more playing time available at a Pac-12 school where he is likely to wind up.
But if the shades of stardom are any indication, Anderson is going to be a player Marquette wishes it could have held on to for one last season.
With another year in the weight room–Anderson is a true small forward and, by definition, not really a switchable–and an improved jump shot–Vander Blue should prove nothing’s impossible–it’s not a stretch to believe Anderson could have been a real contributor as a junior and, when Jamil Wilson, Otule and Gardner were set to graduate next year, a star his senior year.
When asked at Media Day two years ago why a kid from Oakland would choose to play his college ball in snowy Milwaukee, he told me, “I felt like this was the place for me.”
In this author’s opinion it was.