When I spoke to Castro Valley head coach Nick Jones three years ago about 18-year-old Juan Anderson, he couldn’t stress enough that Marquette’s newest top 100 recruit was a player who was able to adapt to his surroundings, work hard and could surprise with a versatile skill set capable of playing multiple positions when the specific lineup called for it.
Jones, who had coached an Anderson-led group to a 30-2 record and advanced to the semifinals of the northern regional championship in Oakland that season, was unsurprisingly excited about the player Anderson could be in Buzz Williams’ “switchable” rotation, saying that Marquette was a “perfect fit” for the 6-foot-6 forward and that Anderson would “take on a leadership role and do what’s needed to help Marquette win.”
Well, after three subpar seasons, that time has come.
Even in a most optimistic evaluation, Anderson has been an average contributor for the Golden Eagles. In 90 career games he’s averaged 2.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and made less than 36 percent of his 188 field-goal attempts. Though backing up some of Marquette’s top players in that span, the former four-star recruit hasn’t lived up to his billing and is one season away from becoming Buzz Williams’ biggest top-100 bust on the recruiting trail.
But with only one year remaining in his collegiate career, the same reasons his high school coach believed in 2011 he could be special could ultimately become the reason he makes an impact on the program in 2014-15.
It’s no secret Marquette will enter the 2014-15 as one of the smallest teams in the Big East; 7-footer Luke Fischer won’t be eligible until the second semester which means 6-foot-7 stretch-four Steve Taylor is the team’s tallest player. Williams had hedged Fischer’s waiting period by securing commitments from 7-footer Satchel Paige and 6-foot-7 wing Marial Shayok, but both opted out of their commitments when Williams bolted to Virginia Tech.
With wing Sandy Cohen and point guard Matt Carlino the only incoming recruits on a team that just lost its two centers (Chris Otule and Davante Gardner) and its de-fact0 power forward (Jamil Wilson) there are ample openings for playing time in Marquette’s frontcourt.
When Anderson returned to Marquette after asking for a release prior to last year — according to a source Anderson didn’t receive the interest he expected to with Pac-12 and MVC programs — there was a report that the wing would take on a role in the backcourt as a more perimeter-oriented shooter than one who battled as an undersized forward in classic Marquette form.
But that change seemed forced, and it was. Through two years Anderson had made 12 of his 42 3-pointers (28.6 percent) and in his sophomore season made 21 percent of his jump shots, second worst behind only Derrick Wilson.
It appeared to be a move made in order to salvage Anderson’s career rather than one that suited him or Marquette best, and the results went as expected. Anderson went 5-for-26 from beyond the arc as a junior, made just 14 percent of his jump shots — FOURTEEN — and made nine field goals in conference play; all nine of those makes came inside 10 feet, per Synergy.
The failed attempt to make Anderson a shooter instead of a scrappy, around-the-rim magnet reared its ugly head all year; it’s hard to think of a game in which Anderson made a real impact, which wasn’t the case in his freshman (at Wisconsin) and sophomore (vs. Providence) seasons. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been effective with an inside-oriented game, either, but his perimeter style clearly was not the answer.
Now in his senior season, Anderson is the most experienced frontcourt player and third tallest player, Fischer included. That undoubtedly will push him back inside, where his above-average defensive-rebound rate (18.1% last year) and scrappy attitude — not just a cliche, but a real attribute — should serve him well. Last year Anderson averaged 9.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, second best behind Steve Taylor (#FreeSteveTaylor) and more than a rebound better than Jamil Wilson (8.2).
Granted, per-40 numbers are somewhat irrelevant for a player who averaged just 13 minutes — 9th most on Marquette — but it’s enough to prove that Anderson was able to hold his own on the glass; he grabbed nine boards in 17 minutes at St. John’s, added seven rebounds in 19 minutes in a huge win against Georgetown and added seven more in 14 minutes in the Big East opener against Creighton.
Ken Pomeroy has a nifty feature that compares a players’ numbers to similar players in different seasons, and an interesting one from Anderson’s junior year included Louisiana Tech forward Chris Anderson’s junior year. As a junior, Chris’ first year in Division I, the 6-foot-6 wing averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game for the Bulldogs, not dissimilar to Juan Anderson’s as a junior.
Chris Anderson started just 10 games as a junior playing behind senior Brandon Gibson. As a senior he made the jump as a starter and averaged 11.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in nearly 24 minutes per game. His per-40 minutes were actually down, but his true value went way up. He became the second leading scorer and rebounder on a Bulldogs team that won 29 games and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT (they would have been Tourney-bound had it not been for an upset loss in the C-USA conference tournament).
Averages of 11.9 points and 5.9 rebounds may be a stretch for Anderson (Jamil Wilson averaged 11.7 and 5.9 last year, for reference) but it’s undeniable that the playing time is there for the Castro Valley native to make an impact.
Anderson’s high school coach knew the switchable would, at some point, be able to use his versatility to help Marquette. In his final season with the Golden Eagles, that time has come. Barring a magnificent summer he won’t become a plus-jump shooter, and his offensive numbers may never earn him consistent minutes.
But if Steve Wojciechowski can place Anderson in the right situation — a small forward able to compete defensively and, if the Marquette lineup calls for it, a power forward in smaller lineups — there’s reason to believe he can put together a fourth and final season worthy of being Marquette’s top recruit in 2011.