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Bosco’s Corner: Anderson

Jack Curran made the trek to New Jersey’s Continental Airlines arena Sunday, along with approximately 17,000 suddenly rabid hometown fans, to take in the first playoff game between the Nets and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.

But Curran, the head coach of the Archbishop Molloy basketball team, isn’t one of the newly converted Nets fanatics. His journey to the Garden State was to catch up with an old friend, Kenny Anderson.

For the uninformed, Anderson was — at one point in his life — the hottest basketball prospect in the world. He was a 17-year-old kid whose name was known throughout the land, a can’t-miss prospect who helped Curran’s Molloy Stanners to more than one Catholic High School Athletic Association state championship.

He parlayed his talent into a full scholarship to play basketball at Georgia Tech, a team he led to the NCAA Final Four in his sophomore year. After that storied season, Anderson bid adieu to his college of choice for a career in the professional ranks.

Anderson was taken as the second pick overall in the 1991 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets, of all teams.

It sounds like a storybook tale, but it hasn’t been, not entirely anyway. While Anderson’s career has been that of a solid pro ballplayer, he never quite lived up to all the hype he received as a high school star. Anderson always has been a solid pro, but I don’t think he was ever considered one of the game’s elite players.

To Curran, Anderson has been the player most people associate with the coach and his basketball program. Even when experts speak of Anderson, his play is measured in terms of his high school days. His old coach, however, is just glad to see his former protégé finally having the success and getting the respect he deserves.

“He’s fine, he’s very happy, he’s with a good team,” Curran said. “He calls me quite often. He checks in on me, sees if I’m OK. He worries about me.”

Curran said he met Anderson when the latter was only about 10 or 11, a young kid who followed then Molloy standout and future NBA star Kenny Smith around the Lefrak City apartment complex, where the two lived.

It was a mere formality that Anderson ended up at Molloy, where he became the first — and only — player to start for Curran as a freshman. Anderson lived up to the faith Curran had in him, earning MVP honors in the CHSAA city title game, won by Molloy.

He was an instant star in basketball circles, the kind of player the local TV news profiled.

“He was probably the most publicized high school player ever in New York,” Curran said. “That’s when they first started paying attention to high school basketball. He was so good at such an early age.”

The hype surrounding Anderson followed him to Georgia Tech and his success went with him, since he was still able to put a team on his back and carry it to success.

Had Anderson been playing high school basketball today, it is likely he would have gone straight to the NBA out of Molloy, but 11 years ago it was a different world, especially when it comes to high school players jumping straight to the big leagues.

Anderson’s first year at New Jersey had him seeing action in 64 games in which he averaged 17 minutes, 3.2 assists, 1.05 steals, 2.0 rebounds and 7.0 points per game. They were not overwhelming statistics, but certainly not too bad for a 20-year-old competing against the best players in the world.

His numbers improved dramatically the next year, averaging 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists. They peaked in his third season with the Nets, as he averaged 18.8 points and 9.6 assists in all 82 games that year.

But he had only one more season in New Jersey, when he averaged 17.6 points and 9.4 assists in the 1994-1995 season before being dealt in the middle of the following season to the Charlotte Hornets in a deal that included fellow CHSAA alum, Christ the King’s Khalid Reeves.

Anderson was only in Charlotte for the remainder of the year, playing in a scant 38 games with the team before signing with the Portland Trailblazers as a free agent on July 23, 1996.

He had a solid first season with the Pacific Northwest team, scoring 17.5 points and dishing out 7.1 assists per game, but his production started to wane the next year before being traded to the Toronto Raptors. Five days following the trade, Anderson was traded to Boston in a multi-player deal.

It would have been easy at this point in his career to write Anderson off as a player who never fulfilled his promise and became a journeyman pro. But that would be doing him an injustice.

While his numbers may never match those of his first years in New Jersey, Anderson had become a solid point guard willing to dish the ball to teammates Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce instead of putting the offense on his back and trying to carry the load alone.

Anderson averaged 5.3 assists and 9.6 points per game this year, but, more importantly, has been a key player on a team currently fighting for the Eastern Conference crown and the right to play in the championship.

And it doesn’t hurt that his old coach is still taking pride in his accomplishments.

“It’s a good break for him in Boston,” Curran said. “They like him there. He’s relating to the game better. I think he feels at home there. I think he’s doing fine.”

Like my little brother Matthew, who just graduated from Boston University, and my friends Amy and Ian Browne, who beat a path to Beantown just a few months ago so Ian could cover the Red Sox, Anderson too has found a home in Boston. I hope the fans there will not be as fickle as those in New Jersey.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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