Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Too ill from Oxon Hill: Pro Scouts On The Prowl for 'DA'

HAMDEN, Conn.-- True story. DeMario Anderson sauntered into a restaurant on Whitney Ave., sporting a black fitted hat with "D.C." emblazoned on the front. Suddenly, he was approached by two model-slender and strikingly pretty young women. Both were resident students and apparently supporters of the basketball team at Quinnipiac University, where after two seasons the Oxon Hill, Md. product has left a legacy that few can eclipse.

"Can I just shake your hand?" Asked one of the women, her eyes lit up like mini-fireballs.
Anderson, "D.A." to the burgeoning basketball culture at Quinnipiac, responded with his hallmark ear-to-ear smile. Taken aback, Anderson let out a few abrupt laughs. When Anderson asked why they sought his permission (he would later explain he's never had anyone ask to shake his hand before), one of the women was quick to answer.
"Because your like...famous."

A bundle of talent, a winning personality, and an uncanny ability to thrive in the face of adversity. These are just some aspects that have helped Anderson skyrocket to small-school stardom. Now these facets are helping him mount a promising professional stock. Anderson is a full package. He's an intriguing blend of otherwordly, wunderkind-like athleticism, strength, and talent. He's 6-3 (maybe 6-3 and some change) with a penchant for losing defenders off the dribble and scoring in traffic. Because of this, Anderson--who cooked opponents to the recipe of 21.7 points and 6.5 boards per game this season— is prolonging an unpredictable basketball career that began at Central Connecticut. Despite being utilized as the Bobcats' clear go-to-guy, a wing whom they featured nearly every game, Anderson handed out a team-high 91 assists on the season. How'd he manage this, you ask? It’s simply what his coach expected of him.

Tom Moore, the former UConn assistant (and associate head coach during his last two years at the Big East NBA factory), said he was sold on Anderson’s potential since he opted to take the Quinnipiac job late last March. “You become mercenary and see what type of hand you’ll be dealt if you do decide to take a job,” explained Moore in an interview with the New Haven Register last month. “I knew what I was getting from him. I wanted to give him some ownership of this team, that’s how much I thought of him…He made this year seamless for me, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that.”

Ever humble, Anderson deflects most of the praise that’s been sprinkled on him over the past year. He’s certainly not shy, however, when it comes to the subject of his hoops future.
“Basketball is definitely in my future,” said Anderson, he of the thick Washington, D.C.-drawl. “I’m definitely trying to get to the [NBA] league. I mean it’s really been my goal since the summer. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise.”

He's D.C. through and through. With a streetball-like savvy and an arsenal of moves off the dribble and slashes to the cup, Anderson created matchup problems for nearly every team in the Northeast Conference this season.

“DeMario is a better than a lot of Big East players,” opined Mike Rice, the first-year Robert Morris head coach.

Oddly enough, despite the fact that he led the league in several statistical categories and turned in titanic performances against in-state foes Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut (at Central), Tony Lee of Robert Morris was handed Player of the Year accolades.
A royal snubbing?

More like "politics as usual," one may conclude. Robert Morris captured the regular season title and the team's overall success typically dictates which player will take home the prestigious conference Player of the Year hardware.

Anderson took the world by storm this year, sometimes serving as a one-man wrecking crew as his numbers vaulted him to an elite class of the NCAA’s scorers. Now a surplus of pro scouts are starting to take notice. Anderson says his cell phone has been flooded with messages lately. Scouts everywhere from Lebanon (where former Quinnipiac forward and Cheverly-bred Kevin Jolley dominated a year ago) to Spain have been in contact with Anderson. The NBA agents have also jumped into the fray, urging him to attend the upcoming Portsmouth Invitational. The event scouts prospective NBA players.

Not bad for a kid who didn't start playing organized ball until his junior year of high school, when he was employed as an instant sparkplug off the knot. At Oxon Hill High, the alma mater of the Chicago Bulls' Michael Sweetney, Anderson re-wrote the record books. He immediately surfaced as one of Maryland’s top players his senior season, garnering an All-County selection and an invite to the Capital Classic.

Putting The Bobcats On The Map

Quinnipiac, a perennial power in hockey, had been striving for some national visibility since the University shelled out a king’s ransom on the TD Banknorth Sports Complex. The 3,500-seat arena dwarfs those of conference foes and would be fitting for an A-10 or MAAC school.
Moore, widely recognized for grooming a torrent of talent during his stay at UConn (see Butler, Caron or Gordon, Ben for more details) became the first coach in Anderson’s traveled five-year career (Anderson went to Global Institute in Manhattan for a year, but sat out to circumvent an NCAA rule that prevents a player from transferring schools in the same conference) to fully utilize the talent which cracked the surface.

Former coach Joe DeSantis’ system featured a motion offense that emphasized crisp ball movement and perimeter shooting. Playing in the wake of grief (Anderson’s mother, Lisa Duncan, died of cancer in 2006), Anderson struggled to get acclimated to the new system through the first ten games. Then one Saturday in December of 2006, he hung 20 points on Vermont. Following this, D.A. quickly came into his own. Anderson averaged 22.3 points over the final six games of the regular season and his evolution as the Bobcats’ feature player had the slowly growing basketball culture buzzing. He managed to do all this despite popping off the bench as the team’s sixth man. DeSantis, who took ten seasons to reach his 100th win, opted to start three-point assailant Van Crafton instead.

Not this year. Moore swooped in and ripped the straight jacket off Anderson’s back. The Bobcats’ offense allowed Anderson to execute the freelance mano y mano moves that makes the senior such a unique threat. It was under Moore that Anderson's game truly flourished, as he fleed from a cloud of obscurity this season.

The University got what it wanted at the near-conclusion of the season. Anderson avenged a loss at Central by winning an overtime thriller in astonishing fashion. With the score deadlocked at 73, Anderson launched a buzzer-beating, half-court prayer that splashed through the net, sending the gym into a mix of shock and frenzy. He then ran out of the Detrick Gymnasium, his teammates chasing after him, to celebrate the glory. The game-winner would shoot to No.1 on SportsCenter’s "Top Ten Plays" that Feb.28 night. It later became a finalist for Pontiac Game-Changing performance. No national visibility? No problem. Give the ball to DA, and let him go to work.

Now basketball junkies around the country are voting amongst game-changing plays made by first-class schools like North Carolina, Memphis, Indiana, Stanford, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin—and now Quinnipiac. The image is may be re-constructed. Maybe DA’s eye-popper allows the school situated in the suburbs of New Haven County to be recognized for more than just its political polls, prestigious Physical Therapy department, and nationally ranked hockey team.

Enhancing The Image?

When a school has grown as quickly as Quinnipiac—once the tiny, Division-II liberal arts school—high expectations, hype, and hearsay tend to brew around campus faster than a freshman beer fest. There had been some hearsay about Quinnipiac eventually becoming a “Junior Ivy League.” Yeah, right. And I’m the next Brad Pitt.

Whatever the University is doing to keep up with these Ivy League foes, Anderson certainly exacerbated Ivy League relations with his scoring prowess this season. In an 85-63 dumping of Dartmouth back in December, Anderson used a compilation of mid-range jumpers and quick slashes to the hole to help blood-letter the Big Green. He finished with 27 points in 27 minutes. Against Cornell, Anderson turned in a 20-point showing—in the second half. 

Against Sacred Heart mid-way through the season, Anderson scored 30 and had a hand in virtually every play. It was a down-to-the-wire clash which concluded in video game fashion. When the Pioneers’ Drew Shubik hit a three, Anderson would answer with a three of his own. When Shubik got free for a lay-in, Da would break through two defenders and complete a reverse layup. In the end, however, the DA transit ran out of gas as the Bobcats suffered a dizzying one-point loss.

“I’m not even going to vote for Player of the Year,” said Moore after that game. “I’m just going to send the (game) tape in. If he doesn’t get (Player of the Year), that would just be criminal.”

D.A. backed up his coach’s potent words the following game, when the Bobcats walloped lowly St. Francis (Pa.) at home. DA did his best Chris Paul impression that game--handing out a game-high six dimes. When they tried to trap him, they weren't there in time. When they keyed on him, his teammates were beneficiaries of his presence.
The D.A. transit was looking to drive deep into the playoffs this season, but the Bobcats lost a tough one to eventual champion Mount St. Mary’s in the opening round.

Dickenman Saga: Squashing The Beef

Anderson emerged into Central’s leading scorer as a sophomore, averaging 14 points and turning in a Godzilla-like, 32-point eruption against, oddly enough, Quinnipiac. His career as a Blue Devil would hit a major pothole however, after a scholarship dispute with head coach Howie Dickenman emerged. At the end of his sophomore year at Central, Anderson asked to be released from his scholarship. Dickenman refused to meet his wish.

“There isn't really any hard feelings between us (anymore),” said Anderson, who is still close friends with Blue Devil guard Tristan Blackwood. “He just never let me out. That got real personal because it not only changed my basketball future but my academic future as well.”
Dickenman maintains that there’s another side to it. He explained to the New Haven Register that Anderson didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to appeal the decision.

“I don’t think (his decision to transfer) had to do with him bumping heads with coach really,” said Justin Chiera, the former three-point assassin for Central who now works as a basketball instructor in New Jersey.

“He wasn’t happy (at Central), it was a personal decision of his. That’s the real reason why he left. As far as how his career went, I honestly think he would have done his thing either way, had he stayed at Central. Just having him on the court was such a luxury, because with D.A., there’s just so much he can do when the rock is in his hands.”
Handling Adversity

You’ll find that few things in life faze Anderson. The 22-year-old was forced to be extraordinarily self-reliant in the months following his mother’s death. He tries to be instrumental in the upbringing of his younger sister, Parris. Anderson has her name tattooed on his right arm.

This season, Anderson lost his grandfather and was forced to miss a pair of games against Wagner and Monmouth. After returning to Connecticut from the funeral, Anderson responded in the wake of grief (once again) by pouring in 25 points and hauling down 11 boards in a loss to Sacred Heart.

D.C. Pipeline: Anderson, along with teammates Louis Brookins, Jeremy and Evann Baker, all hail from the D.C.-area. Former Quinnipiac forwards Victor Akinyanju and Kevin Jolley, also from Maryland/D.C. areas, are enjoying prosperous careers overseas. Exactly when D.C. became the Quinnipiac pipeline is open to question. Most people can date it back to Rob Monroe, the 5-foot-10 guard who became one of the NCAA's scoring and assists leaders during his final season (2004-2005 campaign) with the Bobcats.