Derek Anderson: The One that Got Away

November 8, 1997
The greetings started even before he hit the court for his pregame shootaround.

A couple of young buddies called his name, and Derek Anderson turned, smiled, and came bouncing over to say hello.

Then it was on to the FleetCenter court, where Anderson split his time between shooting and touching bases with old teammates and program mates near half-court. 

If the Celtics are Kentucky North these days, they neglected to invite Anderson to the show.

The Celtics last night started three players - Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, and Ron Mercer - who helped Kentucky to the 1996 NCAA championship. And Anderson, starting at guard for the Cavaliers, made it four on the floor.

Anderson, picked 13th in the 1997 draft by the Cavaliers, averaged 10.7 points in their first three games.

He's been drawing impressive reviews.

"He's a great kid to work with," said coach Mike Fratello. "He brings like a passion every night when he comes out. He's one of the special ones when it comes to attitude and work ethic."

None of which is news to Rick Pitino of course.

The former Kentucky and current Celtics coach raves about Anderson's charisma. About his infectious smile on the court.

"He loves to play," Pitino said."He's like a backcourt version of Walter McCarty."

And sure, you can never have enough Wildcats and Pitino would love to have had him. In fact, he said, Red Auerbach brought Anderson's name up and the Celtics talked about taking him with the No. 6 pick.

But Anderson was coming off his second knee injury, and the Celtics determined that was a little too high to choose him. So they took Mercer.

At No. 13, the Cavs went with Anderson.

"Obviously, the knees were a concern with a lot of people, based on where he went," Fratello said. "Where we picked, we felt very fortunate a player of his caliber was available. It's a gamble when you're talking about two knees, but it was something we were willing to do."

Anderson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Auburn Jan. 18. He was averaging 17.7 points a game at the time.

If he hadn't gone down, who knows how things might have turned out? A second straight title for Pitino and Kentucky, who came within an overtime loss to Arizona of repeating as national champions? Anderson as a Celtics draft pick?

"With Derek and Ron, one thing I thought was we had a legitimate shot to go back-to-back," Pitino said. "There were times we were almost unstoppable. He has very, very quick hands. He drives to the basket and looks for contact."

Healthy, Pitino said, Anderson was the steal of the draft at No. 13.

"No question about it. You take away Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn and I thought he was the third-best player in the country, and that's not taking anything from the other guys. I thought he was terrific."

Anderson showed no ill effects from knee problems in the early going last night.

Walker blocked his first shot; Mercer blocked his second - welcome, teammate.

And then Anderson nailed a 17-footer. He ended the quarter with 7 points and three assists.

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