At 6’8” and 275 pounds, Troy Christian’s James Anderson casts a long shadow wherever he goes. But will that shadow make him the area’s most interesting figure in Division IV basketball come December?
Troy – As one school year concludes another is on the brink – opening night for football season now just ten weeks away.
And basketball, which just three months ago crowned its latest champions, will be here before you know it.
And at Troy Christian High School this week, senior James Anderson was already in the mood for December hoops as he watched elementary kids running up and down the court during camp week. One, a second grader, was showing off his behind-the-back dribble while going pell-mell down the court, outrunning the others to the rim.
Another fifth grader was flashing his Steph Curry skills…no-look passes while neatly hitting mid-range jump shots in transition.
It’s the next generation, making Anderson smile as he remembered his own ascension from the grade school ranks to his present position as one of the area’s most interesting Division IV talents come the new season. And he is interesting. Let me tell you why!
You see, there aren’t many in schools the size of Troy Christian with James Anderson’s size. At 6’8” and 275 pounds he looks like Troy High School’s left tackle. Instead, he has the potential to be one of the area’s best post players in basketball this winter. He smiles when you mention that, which is not unusual…because James Anderson ALWAYS smiles.
He’s truly one of the great kids you’ll ever meet, soft-spoken, and one that would walk a city block just to say hello – always with that ear-to-ear grin so missing in today’s culture of athletes. He could easily be called a ‘gentle giant’ type.
“There’s nothing wrong with smiling,” he’ll tell you. “There’s nothing wrong with being nice. I’d rather be nice.”
But the paradox about Anderson is over whether he’s too nice…to take advantage of his obvious basketball assets. He averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds last year. And for those old enough to remember…he might remind some of Bevo Francis, the man-giant from Rio Grande College in the 50s who was 6’10” and twice scored 100 points in a game.
His 2016-17 numbers were oft-tempered by the competition offered by the Metro Buckeye Conference, a league comprised largely of small Christian schools, like Troy Christian, who simply lack the physical fortitude to compete with 6’8” and 275 pounds.
Anderson smiles (what else) at the notion of being a man playing among mere boys, as he sees on a nightly basis.
“Yeah, but some of those schools aren’t very nice when it comes to playing Troy Christian,” he says with a chuckle. “Every one of them makes it their goal to beat us.”
And other, better Division IV teams had their own plan last year when they played TC. In March’s Division IV sectional final game Tri-Village assigned three players to cover and harass Anderson, frustrating and limiting him to just five points in an emphatic loss. An experience from which he says he learned, and learned well.
“I think I can play with just about anyone,” he says. “But playing against three was pretty tough.”
He’s set about to remedy that, working tirelessly since March to improve his game, and that 6’8”, 275 pound frame.
“I’ve been lifting since the end of the season and I can already see a big difference,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying to work on my body, my conditioning, get quicker and stronger. I want to be able to do whatever’s necessary to help my team win this year.”
And to that end, his coach says he’s already got a leg (and a big leg) up on the challenge, while addressing the question as to whether James Anderson will be the most interesting player in Division IV basketball come December.
“That’s a good question,” said Ray Zawadzki during a break in camp week. “I guess that remains to be seen. No question he’s the most imposing Division IV player in the area because of his size. It’s simply hard to find someone with his size that has his athletic ability. So every time he’s on the court you HAVE to game plan for him. You’re aware that he’s there and there’s no way he doesn’t leave his mark on the game.”
As to questions about imposing, yes, but against who, and those who would ask if there’s enough ‘edge’ to Anderson’s game and competitive personality…Zawadzki is unconcerned.
“You know there’s a lot of things that make up a person and a basketball player,” says Zawadzki. “But the one thing in James’ development, and we see it, is his transformation into being a young man. Our goal is to turn boys into good young men. So I’ll answer those questions by saying his biggest growth will be in the form of mental toughness – toughness to do the work that makes him a better player, to get into better shape, and to overcome three guys guarding him. The next step is about handling adversity and how to lead a team. That’s most important element of growth now for James.
“He’s done the other work, his academics, his work socially, his work spiritually. As to ‘edge’, we’ve seen that at times, in games last year and in practice. And let me emphasize…there’s nothing wrong with a kid being nice. We want to have nice kids at Troy Christian. But being nice doesn’t mean you can’t be competitive, too, and James has it in him to be more than competitive. He can be dominant.”
There’s an old adage, of course, that says you can teach just about anything in basketball; but you can’t teach size. You either have it, or you don’t. Which again, makes Anderson an interesting model to follow in the upcoming season and beyond. Zawadzki assures, that with his size and development, James Anderson will be a scholarship college basketball player.
“There’s no question,” says Zawakzki. “James could go to any high school in the area, any division, and make an impact. He’s being recruited. He’s going to come away with a full ride because when he goes to open gyms at other schools I get the reports back from reliable sources that he dominates the open gym.”
“He can play,” assures teammate, and guard, Ben Schenk, who averaged nearly 4 assists per game last year. “He can score, but he’s a great passer, too.”
And to his credit, if you talk about college and recruiting with the Eagles’ big man he has little to say about the process. He talks exclusively, in fact, about simply being a better high school player this winter on Dorset Avenue.
“I want to play college basketball, for sure,” he says with a happy smile. “But for now I’m looking forward to basketball season and playing here with these guys,” motioning to Schenk and others assembled to watch the elementary kids.
And how many 6’8″ guys can you think of who think like that anymore?
But really, how many 6’8″ guys do you see as happy as James Anderson? Always smiling.