DENVER — For the first three years at Richmond, it was not just senior Kevin Anderson’s size that made him at times invisible on the court.
Once a player who led by quiet example, he has this year become the team’s vocal front-man after the graduation of David Gonzalvez and Ryan Butler — a transition that will prove important as the Spiders prepare for Saturday’s third-round match-up against No. 13 Morehead State at Pepsi Center here in Denver.
That position for Anderson, who insists that he’s really 6 feet tall (with shoes on), has not always been a natural one.
“We did talk a lot in the off-season just about how he could get other guys involved, how much other guys feed off of him,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “Our players see the spectacular things he can do. That really gives everybody confidence when they see how confident he is.”
Gonzalvez and Butler both had the fiery personalities often associated with team leaders. But after their graduation, Anderson’s position at point guard, his gaudy stats and his earning of Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year honors have made the lead role all but guaranteed.
So Anderson, seeking advice at the beginning of the season, turned to his former back-court teammate Gonzalvez.
“He just told me that he prayed a lot, just left the faith in the Lord,” Anderson said. “That’s the things I’ve been doing trying to do.”
Aside from the spiritual aspect, Anderson has also become more like Gonzalvez in his vocalization during games and practices, though he rarely shows the same level of emotion as his predecessor.
“He addresses any issues we have as far as individually or as a team,” junior Darrius Garrett said. “That’s big from one of our star players, one of the major impact players on the team.”
Still, there were times this year when roles were reversed and Anderson needed the support of his teammates. Expectations were high for Anderson entering this year, and at times — including a mid-season stretch when his scoring and aggressiveness seemed to wane — he failed to live up to them. That’s when his teammates needed to help him regain focus.
“It’s hard when you don’t have good games and you’re expected to have good games,” Anderson said Thursday after his team’s 69-66 upset victory over Vanderbilt University in the second round of the NCAA tournament. “That’s really tough. But that’s why you have great guys like Justin [Harper], Darrius, the other seniors on the team. The freshmen and juniors and sophomores as well, because they lift me up when I’m at a low point. They just let me know to keep up your confidence, everything’s going to be okay.”
But as of late, it’s been Anderson who’s been picking up the team. He averaged 22 points when the Spiders won their first A-10 title and scored 25 points in Thursday’s game, including a critical stretch in the second half in which he hit three three-pointers, which gave the Spiders their first lead of the game. That kind of on-court leadership is still Anderson’s signature.
He made other big shots against the Commodores, too, including a pair of floaters with Richmond up by one late in the game, one of which was a fade-away runner over Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli, a 6-foot-11 center. It turned out to be the game-winning shot.
Those baskets were just Anderson doing what he does best — using his size and quickness to his advantage — even if it does force him to play differently from most players.
“I have to shoot some type of shot like that when you’re going against a long defense like Vanderbilt,” Anderson said after the game. “They have Jeff Taylor on me, he’s like 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8. On the ball screens, they would switch. Their big man would get on me. I can’t go for a regular layup. They’re probably going to get a block.”
Anderson has made the transition into a team leader look as easy as he does getting those shots off in the face of a much larger player. For that adjustment, Anderson has been able to impress his teammates off the court, too.
“We all know how quiet Little Man is,” senior Kevin Smith said. “It speaks volumes to his growth as a player, how much he’s come from being a quiet point guard to being a floor general, somebody who is able to lead a team not only [by] example but with his mouth.”
Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at email@example.com