The Four-Year Growth Of UCLA’s Jerime AndersonPosted by AMurawa on February 15th, 2012
There are a lot of great things about college basketball. There are the student sections going crazy during conference play, buzzer-beaters to clinch tournament berths during championship week, there’s Dick Vitale dropping babies like a butter-fingered politician. But perhaps my favorite thing about college athletics, and college basketball in particular, is seeing kids improve drastically over a four-year career. Just looking around the Pac-12 this year, we have plenty of seniors worth raving about. Jorge Gutierrez at California is the consummate leader on his team and has gotten better bit-by-bit over his time in Berkeley. At Oregon, Garrett Sim has gone from a shooter who couldn’t shoot on an undermanned team to one of the best shooters and a gritty defender on a championship contender. Darnell Gant has steadily improved over his time in Washington, adding a solid jumper to his “garbage man” persona.
But UCLA’s Jerime Anderson has had a career arc that goes further than all of those players. He came to UCLA as the #5 point guard in the 2008 recruiting class, but there was a time, during his first couple years in Westwood, where there was no reason to think that Anderson would ever approach the level of even a solid major conference basketball player. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Anderson was just terrible during his freshman and sophomore years. During his freshman campaign, he averaged less than ten minutes per contest in relief of Darren Collison, so his damage was somewhat limited. But as a sophomore, he was expected to take over at the point for the departed Collison, continuing the line of great UCLA point guards under Ben Howland. Instead, it became very apparent on opening night that he would experience significant growing pains. He was 1-of-11 from the field, missed all three of his threes, turned the ball over three times and was repeatedly exposed defensively in a loss to Cal State Fullerton that was just the start of a disastrous year. It didn’t get a whole lot better from there, as his confidence hit rock bottom. Anderson turned the ball over on a regular basis, and struggled so much defensively that the Bruins had to resort to a zone defense, anathema to a Howland-coached team. But, as the year wore on, he got more comfortable defensively, his turnover numbers moderated and he slowly began to earn back playing time and his confidence.
Flash forward to his senior season, and Anderson, while by no means a transcendent player (he’s may not even be the best senior guard on his own team), has become a perfectly cromulent point guard. Over the course of his career, his numbers have improved every year: his turnover rate has dropped, his defensive numbers have improved, his percentage of possessions, and shots have dropped (yes, that counts as a good thing) while his leadership ability and other intangibles have skyrocketed. Still, there’s that little bit about his involvement in a laptop theft over the summer, which led to his arrest and a guilty plea. Of all the bad decisions Anderson has made in his time at UCLA, this was the one that stuck in the craw of his supporters, and it was the one that shamed him the most. But, he said all the right things after his plea, served his two-game suspension and did his community service, hopefully learning from the whole situation.
And there is little doubt, that Anderson has learned much in his college career. There was a time when just the fact that Anderson had the ball in his hands or was locked up in man defense with an opponent was reason for concern, but now his presence inspires confidence, and UCLA is at its best when Anderson is going good. This past weekend at home against Cal, the Bruins were dead in the water, down 15 midway through the second half when Anderson put the team on his back, as he scored nine points, handed out a couple assists and played great defense to get the Bruins back to within seven. UCLA wasn’t able to complete the comeback, but in a similar scenario in Anderson’s sophomore year, that 15-point deficit would have been more apt to turn into a 25-point hole rather than a Bruin charge.
Now, is Anderson anywhere near as good as he was expected to be? No. Does he still make plays that have Bruin fans want to slap their heads at times? Sure. But he’s got the fundamentals down – for the most part. He’s in the right place looking for outlet passes, he’s talking on defense and able to keep in front of his man, he’s good at using his long arms to cause problems for his opponent, he gets in passing lanes, he fights through screens, and he plays with a calmness that has the rest of his team right there with him. Certainly some of the credit has to go to Ben Howland for sticking with his guy and being able to help his player improve (and, really, say what you will about Howland, but his players always seem to get better year by year), but Anderson deserves as much credit for sticking with the program, putting in the hours necessary to hone his craft and developing his talent. We love to see seniors make good.