Friday, September 3, 2010

The Cowboy's Way

by Nick Kapsis

The anxiety was just too much to bear. Anderson had held an NBA Draft viewing party in his hometown of Junction City, Arkansas, at the high school he once attended. 

The high school's name? 

Junction City High School, of course -- when your town's only got one you needn't overthink it. 

Junction City, Arkansas populates roughly 721 people, has one high school and one stoplight. It's small, quaint and if you're not looking for it, you just might pass through without so much as noticing. It's a world away from the big and bright lights of New York City -- home of the 2010 NBA Draft -- and it was exactly where James Anderson wanted to be. 

That is, for as long as he could stomach it. 

Anderson's anxiety had gotten the better of him -- coming off a draft process that had him showcasing his talents at less than one-hundred-percent -- he had to get away. Away from his supporting cast, away from the people that had helped get him to the doorstep of his dream. He was fully aware that the hamstring injury would probably cost him a chance to go in the lottery, and maybe even a few slots more, but simply believing something to be doesn't help to lessen the significance or weight of the moment. He just had to get out from under it. 

Anderson took a break from the festivities to go home and gather. 

The wait must have felt like forever. On the cusp of a dream and goal he's had ever since discovering basketball and the NBA, minutes turned to hours and hours to eternity.

In reality, his wait would be short-lived. Most mock drafts had Anderson pegged to go in the middle of the first-round and there was never any hint of a Blair-like drop. But he did have to wait longer than most expected -- and the San Antonio Spurs were among them. 

The Spurs are a savvy organization widely known for their shrewd business moves, transactions and draft selections. But like Junction City High School, some things don't take all that much thought or imagination. After years of providing head-scratching moments for fans and pundits alike on draft night, the Spurs have taken a "Basketball For Dummies" approach the last two years: 

"Player of the Year? Sure, why not?"

Holding the twentieth pick in the 2010 Draft -- their highest pick since drafting Tim Duncan first-overall in 1997 -- finding a player as accomplished as Anderson was never their expectation. The Spurs are nothing if not thorough and always plan for best and worst-case scenarios -- leaving no rock unturned -- but that's simply being professional. At their core, they're realists. And realists don't expect to find a 2nd-Team All American and the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year waiting to be selected with the twentieth pick. 

Even rarer a find, how many players are as accomplished on the court and just as beloved off? 

"My best compliment that I could give to him," Oklahoma State's Head Coach Travis Ford began. "is I got two young boys and if they grow up to be the type of person he is I'll be very happy. ...Very happy," the words of a grateful coach choked up with emotion as his star player declared for the NBA Draft. 

Anderson was named Arkansas' Gatorade Player of the Year, a McDonald's All-American and a Parade 3rd Team All-American in 2007 after leading his Junction City High School to a Class 2A state championship -- scoring 43-points in its title game. He was named to the 2008 Big 12 All-Rookie team, the 2008 All-Big 12 2nd Team and he was 2008 USBWA All-District. In 2009 he was a consensus 2nd Team All-American, a 1st Team All-Big 12 selection and he was unanimously named Big 12 Player of the Year. 

He's quite the accomplished player but of all Anderson's accolades he derives the most pride and satisfaction from being selected to the Big 12 All-Academic Team. And though he left Oklahoma State before finishing his degree, he fully intends to make good on a promise he made to his mother to one day finish what he started -- this is the player and person whose departure left Coach Ford trying to keep it all together as he attempted to find the words to say goodbye. 

"He's been a fine and perfect example of what we want this basketball program to be about, not just as a player but as a person," Ford said. "That's what I'm going to miss is just coaching every day a guy who you know you're going to get his best effort and you know you're going to have fun doing it because he's just a tremendous, tremendous, tremendous person. 

Back at his old stomping grounds, surrounded by family and friends, Anderson's wait ended. The Spurs saw to it. The room erupted and Anderson was embraced by his mother, Ira, as they both shed tears of joy. 

"I'm very very proud of him," Anderson's mother said. "I felt like he was going to make it anyway. But now that he did, I'm really proud of him." 

An overwhelmed Anderson spoke with local media shortly after learning he'd be the newest Spur.

"No question it's a dream come true. Ever since I knew what basketball was and what the NBA was its been a goal of mine since I was little. Just being able to reach it is a great accomplishment. But I just don't want to reach it, I want to be one of the best players to ever reach it." 

Overjoyed and overwhelmed, not satisfied, Anderson's dream had only been given the go-ahead, not fulfilled. Simply making a team wasn't the goal -- when your nickname is "Big Game James" simply being a participant just isn't enough. 

"We're very excited. He's a terrific player, a terrific person and we think he's going to be a great fit for the Spurs for years to come," Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford told media after selecting Anderson.

"He's going to be a great fit for years to come." 

Come late October there will be a Cowboy donning Spurs. 

Some things you needn't overthink.

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