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UCLA's Kyle Anderson doesn't lack confidence or intensity

LAS VEGAS — Kyle Anderson has that look again, the one he wears as he warms up before every basketball game.

It's a predator's glare. Hungry. Determined. A little angry.

The sophomore guard's UCLA teammates say he is fun to be around. But as he prepares to compete, he doesn't look like fun.

"He likes to dance," said guard Jordan Adams, his roommate. "His favorite is the Dougie. But that's for behind the scenes."

For public consumption, Anderson paces around the court like a boxer in a ring, just waiting to get at that other guy. His head typically down, his face stoic, a you're-dead-to-me look emanates from his eyes.

"That's years of getting focused before going into battle," assistant coach Duane Broussard said. "He has been taught that between those lines it's strictly business."

And business has been very good.

As UCLA opens play in the Pac-12 Conference tournament Thursday with a quarterfinal game against Oregon, Anderson is averaging 14.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game.

All of that while carrying a boulder-size chip on his shoulder, one that clears a wide swath when he's rolling.

The chip comes from critics — some real, some perceived.

His gangly 6-foot-9 frame and stop-motion style were said to be ill-suited for major-college basketball and surely for the NBA.

"People doubt me all the time because maybe I'm too slow, maybe I'm not athletically gifted," Anderson said. "I look forward to proving them wrong."

He has already proved them wrong about college, but his time at UCLA may be running out.

Anderson turns coy when asked about declaring for the NBA draft.

"For me right now to focus on that is not fair to my teammates," he said.

However, his father, Kyle Anderson Sr., doesn't hesitate about the same topic.

"He's done," Anderson Sr. said.

That opens up another discussion, about how Anderson's game might translate to the NBA.

As a point guard, there are concerns about his defense, quickness and shooting.

Asked whether Anderson would be a first-round pick, an NBA scout said, "He's not on my list. It will depend on who's in love with him."

The scout, speaking anonymously because his team doesn't allow him to comment about college players, predicts Anderson will have trouble in two areas: shooting and defense.

Anderson is shooting 49% this season, using his lanky body and long arms to go over defenders. He won't be able to do that in the NBA, the scout predicts, because the players are "bigger and more athletic."

As for Anderson's defense, the scout said, "The only position he can play is [power forward]. He would be a perfect player in the 1970s. He plays at the speed from that era."

Anderson Sr. has an answer for that.

"Name me a top player and I'll show you a high basketball I.Q.," he said.

Anderson has that, UCLA Coach Steve Alford said, noting that winning intangibles can be missed by people who don't watch a player day in and day out.

"Ask the coaches we have played against," Alford said. "I would venture to say he's the guy they prepare for first and foremost. 'Who's guarding Anderson? How are we handling Anderson?' "

Not well, usually.

"When you put the best in the country in one category, guys who are going to go on and have great NBA careers, you have to put Kyle Anderson in that group," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said.

Even when UCLA has been at its worst, Anderson has been at his best.

The Bruins played as if they checked their hearts at the door in losses to Utah and Washington State, except for Anderson. He had a career-high 28 points against the Utes, 19 against the Cougars, and was clearly smoldering after both games.

After a loss at Oregon State, Anderson could be heard admonishing his teammates through a thick brick wall.

"I saw him at AAU and he was always a competitor," Alford said. "What Kyle wants to do is win."

As for the NBA, Alford said, "People miss on guys all the time. What is unique about him is that 6-9 point guards don't come around all that often."

Anderson was raised to be a point guard by his father, a longtime high school basketball coach in New Jersey.

By the time Kyle was 7, Anderson Sr. said, "he was doing drills with the team."

When the coach went to basketball camps, his son tagged along — and was an immediate hit.

Anderson went to a camp alone for the first time when he was 8.

"We went to see him play and were walking behind some coaches who were talking about this kid who was a phenomenal point guard," Anderson Sr. said. "Turned out, it was Kyle."

Anderson was tall, so his father had him play on AAU teams with older kids so he wouldn't get "pigeonholed" as a post player. Kyle's deliberate pace earned him the nickname "Slow Mo," but his father reminds that basketball is not a foot race.

"He has the ability to run a team," Anderson Sr. said.

"Kyle has always been more levelheaded about things than me," Anderson Sr. said. "I personally get offended when people say he is not a point guard."

His son shrugs.

"My slow, methodical game wasn't going to work at the college level," Anderson said. And yet, "I pretty much do whatever I want on the court this season."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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