One would never describe Evan Anderson's play as graceful, but over the past four years he handled himself with grace nonetheless.
When newspaper articles tout you as "the next big thing," literally, before you even play a minute of high school basketball, the pressure is on. Anderson has always been large (he started dunking as a seventh-grader). Websites like Rivals and Scout ranked the 6'10" man-child as a Top 15 player in his class during his freshman season. There probably were many tough days for Anderson over the past decade, dealing with enormous expectations his whole teenage life.
I don't doubt that Anderson really liked basketball. But not every giant was born to dominate a sport, as was the case with Anderson. When Anderson announced in February he would not return for a fifth year in the program, it did not exactly shock fans. Most comments I heard expressed respect for Anderson for sensing the right time to move on to other things he is passionate about. Ending his career with a Final Four appearance probably made that a bit easier too.
Fortunately, basketball was a means to an end for Anderson. He is on track to graduate in four years with a sociology degree and he even picked up a fiance in the process last fall.
Perhaps more than basketball, Anderson loved his teammates. He viewed the team as his family and his teammates reciprocated. Anderson said never considered bailing on his teammates to transfer somewhere else, where the pressure would decrease and his playing time would increase.
"It's just having a commitment to them," [Anderson] said of his UW teammates, "and trying to stay focused on doing anything I can at all to contribute."
Early in his prep career, Anderson was considered one of the best center recruits in the nation, mostly based on scouts seeing him in AAU tournaments. Not many would see him play at Stanley-Boyd High School, a sleepy place in the country west of Eau Claire, Wis.
Things changed when Anderson transferred to Eau Claire North as a sophomore and upgraded from the Fox Valley Skillz to the Wisconsin Playground Warriors for AAU ball. Anderson wanted to improve by playing against better competition and his exposure increased significantly. Because he was so huge and so young, programs like Kansas and UCLA began to show interest in him.
Even as it became apparent that Anderson may have been over-hyped, this was not the type of recruit in-state schools could afford to let slip through their fingers. Wisconsin recruited him hard, as did Marquette. Ultimately, Anderson knew he wanted to be a Badger and selected UW over Marquette, Boston College and Iowa State soon after his sophomore season.
Anderson made one state tournament appearance with North and was an imposing defensive presence, but he never was more than an Honorable Mention All-State pick. He suffered through an ankle injury as a junior and high school coaching that never bothered to showcase him. He was still a raw hulk of clay when he arrived in Madison with his size 20 feet.
After redshirting his freshman season, Anderson became an easy target of ribbing by yours truly because of his tendency to foul. And by foul, I mean foul A LOT. He picked up 10 personal fouls in 35 minutes of mop up duty in 2011-12, an astounding 11.4 fouls committed per 40 minutes.
|2011-12 (RS Freshman)||11.4|
|2012-13 (RS Sophomore)||10.5|
|2013-14 (RS Junior)||10.0|
These are numbers very few in the program have even approached. Not Dave Mader early in Bo's reign; not even Booker Coleman's 11.2 FC/40 in 1994-95. In fact, I looked back through Wisconsin's annual records starting with 1979 and no one has ever topped Evan Anderson's rates. I would put his foul rate up against anyone in the country the last few years, which is amazing considering Wisconsin as a team sent opposing players to the free throw line at the third-lowest rate in the country last season.
|Wisconsin records held|
|CAREER - Most fouls-per-minute||10.64|
|SEASON - Most fouls-per-minute (2011-12)||11.43|
Despite the jabs he took on social media, Anderson was a fan favorite. He was hard-working and waged a constant battle to improve his footwork so he'd be ready when duty called. I was thrilled when he had a block against Marquette and played seven important, unexpected minutes for Wisconsin against Purdue this season. It was bittersweet when I swapped tickets and missed the Illinois game, when Anderson buried a late 3-pointer and the Kohl Center went bananas.
Of course, Anderson earned an even greater reputation as a dancer, starting way back with his role as the team's hype man in the pregame warm-up circle as a freshman and sophomore. Obviously, the gem is the lawn mower routine:
His prowess became a full-blown phenomenon during March, making an appearance on ESPN's SportsCenter intro with his celebratory moves after beating Baylor.
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