Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Quinnipiac Should Retire No. 0

DeMario Anderson sported the number 0 as an ode to Gilbert Arenas, the furious-scoring Washington Wizards guard.

 The facilitator who sped up  Quinnipiac's ascension from lowly, underachieving Northeast Conference stomping mat to reputable MAAC program with a ramped up recruiting base, Anderson's respect is much due. 

Quinnipiac must do the right thing.

 Don't argue with history.

 Retire his jersey. 

No questions asked.

 No political process. No walls to permeate. No long, arduous process to ensure it happens. No stockpile of paperwork to sift through. No committee meetings with University power brokers or lame voting system. Unnecessary. Look at the numbers, look at the tape. Look at the ESPN top ten plays, the week of Feb. 28, 2008. 

Get it done.

Anderson became a household name synonymous with Quinnipiac basketball during an era of unexpected urgency. 

The Bobcats had just moved from a creaky, shoebox-sized gym into a dazzling and delectable 3,500-seat arena, undoubtedly the most effectively seductive recruiting tool a program of that caliber has to offer.

And therefore Anderson's No.0 must be retired, hanging from the rafters of the building he helped  plant the seeds for while doling out tickets on name recognition alone. 

Buoyed by Anderson's play-making, paced by Anderson's veteran savvy and nose for the rim,  Quinnipiac's freshly-minted coaching staff and callow squad of maddeningly inconsistent underclassmen granted him some ownership of the Bobcats. 

Anderson was the poster boy for a program entertaining much-needed culture change. Quinnipiac had been thirsting for a conference championship, leaning onto  a long shot of an NCAA tournament berth. 

 Anderson was on the cover of an I-95 billboard for the $52 million TD Banknorth Sports Center. You can't alter a program's perception without a star piece. 

Retire DeMario Anderson's jersey. 

Turning a blind eye to this would be a complete disservice to an unrivaled University  legacy. 

Anderson helped lift the Bobcats out of a 2-9 slide to start the 2006-07 season, surfacing as a scorer who could survive and thrive with hustle points, jumpers, and electric displays of high-rising athleticism. 

Bolstered by Bronx-bred Adam Gonzalez, a tactical point guard stoked with a calming poise and knack for big shots (37 points on Sacred Heart, deep game-tying 3-pointer in tight loss to UCONN at Storrs), Anderson engineered a late-season push.

 Alongside crafty 6-foot-7 lefty Chris "Six" Wehye and bruising undersized 6-foot-5 Center Vic Akinyanju, Anderson's ascension ended an era of disinterest. Basketball was finally on the same plane as nationally-recognized hockey, years after meddling in obscurity and severe disinterest.


True story.

 DeMario Anderson sauntered into a restaurant on Whitney Ave. in Hamden, CT, sporting a black fitted hat with “D.C.” emblazoned on the front. Suddenly, the Oxon Hill, Md. native encountered two model-slender and alarmingly pretty young women.

“Can I just shake your hand?” asked one woman, her eyeballs blazing a la mini-fireballs.

Anderson, “D.A.” to the blossoming basketball culture at Quinnipiac, responded with his hallmark ear-to-ear smile. Taken aback, Anderson trickled into laughter.

 When Anderson asked why they sought his permission (he would later explain no one ever asked to shake his hand), one of the smoke-shows was quick to answer:

 “Because you’re like… famous.”

Innate scoring and an uncanny ability to thrive in the fiend-like face of adversity. These two factors helped Anderson skyrocket to small-school stardom.

Anderson was that dude. He’s 6-3 (maybe 6-3 and change) with a penchant for losing defenders off the dribble and scoring buckets by the bunches.

 Because of this, Anderson—who cooked opponents to the recipe of 21.7 points and 6.5 boards per game his senior year—should have the same relevance of other program legends such as Burt Kahn.

Anderson’s collegiate career began at Central Connecticut, included a pass through in New York City, and ended in storybook style at Quinnipiac, Central’s traditional blood rival.

Anderson averaged 15 ppg for Spotter Leuven in Belgium’s professional basketball league. 

Senior Standout

Despite his function as the Bobcats’ clear go-to-guy, a wing whom they featured nearly every game, Anderson peddled a team-high 91 assists as a senior in ‘07-08.

Tom Moore, the former UConn assistant (Moore served as the Associate Head Coach during his final two years under iconic NCAA tyrant Jim Calhoun), was sold on Anderson’s upside since he opted to take the $350,000 Quinnipiac job in March of 2007.

Moore wanted, from the jump, to revolve the system around getting the well-built guard/forward off the ball, capable of attacking and hunting for his shot.

“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.

 “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.”

Ready to erupt with his arsenal moves off the dribble and slashes to the cup, Anderson created matchup problems for nearly every team in the Northeast Conference.

“DeMario is a better than a lot of Big East players,” opined then-Robert Morris Coach Mike Rice, who was pink-slipped out of Rutgers for abusive behavior. 

 Bobcats on the Map 

Quinnipiac, a hockey hotbed flooded with El Aziza hot young females (always has been), was striving for national visibility since the University shelled out A-Rod money on the TD Banknorth Sports Center. The 3,500-seat arena dwarfs those of conference foes and would be fitting for an A-10 or MAAC school. 

It sits atop a hill, offering scenic views of New Haven and Long Island Sound.

Moore, running on his recruiting credibility established at UConn (see Butler, Caron or Gordon, Ben for more details) became the first coach in Anderson’s traveled five-year career to fully utilize the talent which cracked the surface.  Anderson went to Global Institute in Manhattan for a year, sitting out to circumvent an NCAA rule that prevents a player from transferring schools in the same conference.

Former coach Joe DeSantis’ system featured a motion offense that emphasized crisp ball movement and perimeter shooting. 

Under Moore, Quinnipiac was catalyzed by defense. Netting Justin Rutty, a 6-foot-7 professional out of Newburgh, helped guard the rim.

Anderson played in the wake of grief his junior year.  Just a few months after arriving on campus via Central, Anderson’s mother, Lisa Duncan, died of cancer.

Anderson struggled getting acclimated to the new system. His initial impact was not what was projected. He was better than he was showing, clearly.  Through the first 10 games, he was locked in an unusual role of cast member.

“We still haven’t seen the real DeMario Anderson,” QU radio commentator Billy Mecca would say.

Then one Saturday in December of 2006, Anderson hung 20 points on Vermont. Getting hot in spurts and using that blend of aggression, hustle and surefire hops, Anderson took off.

The then-junior averaged 22.3 points over the final six games of the regular season. The image was suddenly altered, for the first time since 2002. 

 Anderson's 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. 

During Anderson's senior year, Moore swooped in and ripped the straightjacket off D.A.’s back. The Bobcats’ offense allowed Anderson to execute the freelance moves that makes Anderson such a hard-to-guard, go-to-the-bucket threat.

 It was under Moore that Anderson’s game truly flourished, as he fled from a cloud of obscurity.

The University got what it wanted at the near-conclusion of the season.

Anderson avenged a loss at Central Connecticut by propelling the Bobcats to an overtime victory in pulsating 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 frenzy. 

He then ran out of the Detrick Gymnasium, his teammates giving chase, to celebrate the glory.
The game-winner would shoot to No. 1 on Sports Center’s “Top Ten Plays” that Feb. 28 night. It later became a finalist for Pontiac’s Game-Changing performance.

Not bad for a kid who didn’t play organized ball until his junior year of high school, when he was employed as an energetic spark plug off the bench.

 At Oxon Hill High, the alma mater of former professional Michael Sweetney, Anderson re-wrote the record books. He immediately surfaced as one of Maryland’s top prep players garnering an All-County selection and an invite to the Capital Classic.

And so  basketball junkies around the country were voting amongst game-changing plays made by first-class schools like North Carolina, Memphis, Indiana, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, and suddenlyQuinnipiac.

Elite company for a school that didn't turn Division-I until the 1998-1999 campaign and once played in a middle school gym.

Anderson’s eye-popper allows the school situated in the suburbs of New Haven County to be recognized for more than just the aforementioned political polls, prestigious Physical Therapy department, and nationally ranked hockey team.

Enhancing the Image

When a school has grows by leaps and bounds 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 on MAY weekend. 

In an 85-63 dumping of Dartmouth back in December of 2007, 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 that culminated in video game fashion. When the Pioneers’ Drew Shubik drained a trey, Anderson would answer with a trey of his own. 

When Shubik got free for a lay-in, D.A. would knife through two defenders and complete a reverse layup. In the end, however, the D.A. 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.”

Dickenman Saga: Squashing the Beef

Anderson emerged into Central Connecticut’s leading scorer as a sophomore, averaging 14 points. He turned in a Godzilla-like, 32-point eruption against, oddly enough, Quinnipiac.

But Anderson’s career as a Blue Devil would hit a major pothole after a scholarship dispute with head coach Howie Dickenman was thrust to the forefront.

 At the end of his sophomore year at Central, Anderson asked to be released from his scholarship. Dickenman, who, like Moore is a Jim Calhoun disciple, refused to meet his wish.

“There isn’t really any hard feelings between us [anymore],” said Anderson, who’s still tight with former Blue Devil guard and 2007 NEC Player of the Year Javier Mojica, who played professionally in Puerto Rico.

“He (Dickenman) just never let me out. That got real personal because it not only changed my basketball future but my academic future as well. It made it real difficult. I thought it was unheard of. Me and my family now understand what type of coach he was.”

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 [Anderson’s decision to transfer] had to do with him bumping heads with coach really,” said Justin Chiera, the former three-point assassin for Central Connecticut. 

“He just 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 facts of life, no matter how scathing, can infect the fun-loving Anderson.

He was forced to be extremely self-reliant in the months following his mother’s death.
He was 22 at the time, getting acclimatized to a new environment, a new coaching staff, and a new situation.

 Just like when he was a teenager occasionally ducking bullets on the hardscrabble playgrounds from which he materialized, Anderson soldiered on.

He knows he was blessed.

 “She just gave me this gift,” Anderson said. “I got to pursue it as hard as I can.”

His senior year, he carried a photograph of his mother with him every away game. Anderson has also been instrumental in the upbringing of his younger sister, Parris. He has her name inked on his right arm.

His senior 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), pouring in 25 points while inhaling 11 boards in a loss to Sacred Heart.

D.C. Pipeline

Anderson, along with then-teammates Louis Brookins (who’s since graduated), Jeremy and Evann Baker, all hail from the DC-area.

 Former Quinnipiac forwards Akinyanju and Kevin Jolley, also from Maryland/DC areas, are having prosperous careers over the waters.

Exactly when DC became the Quinnipiac pipeline is still open to question. 

Most people can date it back to Rob Monroe, the trigger-happy 5-10 guard. Monroe, who occasionally went off for 40-spots his senior season, became one of the NCAA’s elite scorers. An legitimate all-around offensive threat, Monroe also cracked the nation’s upper crust in the assists-per-game category, in his final season (‘04-05) with the Bobcats.