Derek Anderson was an exceptional basketball player at the University of Kentucky, a player that UK fans loved as much for his smile and his playmaking/scoring skills after the Louisville native transferred to UK from Ohio State.
He was a key contributor on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team and UK may have won the title again in 1997 if Anderson had not hurt his knee late in the season. Cleveland made him the 13th overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft and in the 1999-2000 season he ranked seventh in the league in free throw percentage (.877). His NBA career was plagued by injuries but he was with Portland, Houston, Miami and Charlotte.
However, Anderson thinks Kentucky fans might be surprised to learn how much they did not know about him during his playing days. The Louisville native has written his autobiography, “Be UNSTOPPABLE,” and has had meeting about it potentially be turned into a movie.
“I have been out trying to meet the right people,” said Anderson, who has written movie scripts and comic books and worked on video games. “I just enjoy doing that kind of stuff.”
Anderson, who now lives in Atlanta but is contemplating a move to Los Angeles to enhance his writing career, says he’s always thought about being a writer.
“Everyone said I should coach, but I wrote a musical play in (Doss) high school. I’ve always done this as a hobby,” Anderson said. “But I never thought I would tell my whole life story.”
His life story contains some startling information.
“I never saw my mother at a UK game,” Anderson said.
However, there’s plenty more.
“I lived in a homeless shelter in Louisville. I slept on park benches,” he said. “I had to make out. Guys in the project knew where I was sleeping. They brought me milk and stuff. I think I was about 12 then. At 14, I was staying at different houses. My mother and father never saw me play basketball. My mother came to one NBA game. My father never did.”
Yet once he got to Kentucky, Anderson hid his background from everyone and seemed to always be smiling.
“I just did that to hide all the frustration. If everyone saw I was frustrated, it would not help. I smiled just to let people know I was okay,” Anderson said. “I would smile to hide the pain. There were days I sat and cried and wished my family would come up from Louisville. It was depressing, but I made it. I hid the pain well.
“People always say I was a bit of a different breed. Most people would have just quit trying and had ever reason to do so. I was a size 13 and had to wear a size 11 shoe at school when I was younger. Some people would make fun of me until I got good in basketball. I just had a rough life. Coaches and others would take me to help get me clothes. I wore a lot of hand-me downs, and was glad to have them.
“It kept me humble even during my best times. I knew what I did not want to do and what not to risk my life for. I wanted to make something of myself and was willing to pay whatever price it took to do it.”
When’s he’s not trying to promote his upcoming book or pursuing a possible writing career, Anderson enjoys watching basketball.
“I watch college more than pros because the college guys give it their all and play hard,” Anderson said.
“It might be ugly at times, but I love college basketball.”
“I absolutely love this team,” Anderson said.
However, he’s not ready to annoint this team as better than UK’s 1996 national championship team that had nine future NBA players on it.
“The first five matches up with our team, but who is the second five. That’s the problem matching up with us,” Anderson said. “We had Jeff Shepard, Wayne Turner, Mark Pope, Allen Edwards, me. That’s where this team would lose the battle. The first five is pretty good, but the second five? We would turn Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb over. We would get them.
“Most people forget how good we were. They want to live in this moment, but until you see us score 86 points in a half — something that has never been done at UK or anywhere — like we did at LSU, then you don’t know how good we were. I have still not seen anything remotely close to that.”
Not that Anderson denies this team has plenty of talent.
“Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could play on anybody’s team,” Anderson said. “Those guys are monsters. They are way above average. They do so many things well. I have never seen anything like the way Davis blocks shots. He blocks jump shots. Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Patrick Ewing could not block jump shots. This dude can do it.”
But he’s not sure how the other current Cats would last against the 1996 team.
“Lamb would be like Camerson Mills (a walk-on reserve on the 1996 team) and not get in the games for our team. He’s just a spot-up shooter,” Anderson said. “Me and Ron (Mercer) and Tony (Delk) and Jeff (Sheppard) would have killed that kid. Our four top athletes all went to the NBA and all were guards. Jeff Sheppard could jump out of the gym, too.
“But this team really does have a chance to win the national title. They are playing great. It’s hard to compare teams, but I’ll just always believe we were better. But this team has brought back some memories of the way we dominated. We used to beat people bad and they’ve done some of that.”
However, Anderson wants other to know what it took for him to succeed and be part of those special Kentucky teams.
“I wanted the world to see it and know my story. You would never know I grew up that way unless you were one of the few people that knew,” Anderson said. “People saw me as a good person. Everywhere I go, people remember my smile. Recently a lady 80 said she did not recognize me until I smiled.
“How you live your life is how people see you. You can’t succumb to all that fake stuff. I want people to see who I am. You have to live your life and stop making excuses. Kids have too much good to be complaining. I want mine to be an inspirational story to reach out to others and hopefully help others see if I made it, they can, too. It’s not easy to tell everyone some of the things I went through, but I know there are others out there who can use the motivation.”