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Anderson discusses how Alford's arrival and playing point guard
This Q&A and more on UCLA and the Pac-12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Now, as a sophomore, Anderson can expect to have the ball in his hands more frequently while playing under new coach Steve Alford. Athlon Sports caught up with Anderson over the summer to talk about his transition to the West Coast and his thoughts on the upcoming season.
His UCLA team checked in at No. 23 in our countdown .
You are New Jersey guy. Why did you decide to go to all the way across the country and what do you miss most about the northeast?
I wanted to go to UCLA because of its history and tradition. The hardest thing was the distance. It’s been a challenge, but I came around, and I’m happy I decided to come all the way out here. I was real homesick last year, especially in the summer, but I got over it once the games started. It was rough at first, though. It’s been a personal challenge for me and I never considered leaving for another school.
You were recruited by Ben Howland. When did you know he was going to be fired at UCLA and were you surprised when it happened?
We won the Pac-12 regular-season title, but I think we started to have an idea when we lost in the conference tournament. I got a call from Coach Howland right after he got fired. It was tough because he was the one who recruited me. I thought we had a very good season, but obviously it wasn’t up to me. It was a distraction at times during the season, but we tried to stay focused and not pay attention to what people were saying.
Do you ever think about what might have happened — and whether Howland would still be the coach — if Jordan Adams (right) hadn’t broken his foot in the Pac-12 tourney?
In my opinion, if Jordan hadn’t gotten hurt, we would have been the fifth seed out west and done well in the NCAA Tournament. Jordan’s injury was very unfortunate, especially the timing of it. I think it all would have worked out if he hadn’t broken his foot, but you can’t go back and think about that now. We have to just look ahead.
How close did you come to putting your name in for the NBA Draft last year?
Very close, but I decided that this was the right move for me. I wanted to take this offseason as another challenge, to get my body right and take my game to another level rather than trying to go to the NBA. I wanted to stay another year, work on my game and enjoy college for another season.
Did you know anything at all about Steve Alford, and what are your impressions of him thus far?
I watch enough college basketball and saw a few New Mexico games last season. They had a very good team with guys like Tony Snell and Kendall Williams. I saw the freedom he gave those guys, and hopefully he can bring the success and that freedom to UCLA.
How anxious were you through the process after Howland got fired?
I was wondering who our coach was going to be. The way I found out about Alford being our coach is that someone woke me up and told me. I didn’t really know who he was at first, but when they said he’s the coach at New Mexico, then I realized who it was. He’s a guy who played for one of the greatest coaches of all time in Coach (Bob) Knight and also won a national title. So he knows what it’s like to win at the highest level.
You had to play power forward last season as a freshman. What was the most difficult part of the adjustment and how did it help you?
It was tough going up against guys that were two or three years older and much bigger and more physical. I had to step up for the challenge and it was hard for me, especially early in the season. Once I figured out that I had to be the one to hit first, it became much easier for me. But the physical aspect was by far the most difficult.
Related: 2013-14 Pac-12 Preview
Has Alford told you what your role will be this season — and whether you’ll be the primary point guard?
We haven’t talked about that at all yet. I’m not sure and I’m not going to ask, I’m not that kind of kid. I don’t want to make demands or anything like that, but it’ll be nice to know where I’m going to play. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.
Have you always played point guard before last season?
Yes, but I haven’t played it in a while now. But growing up, I was always the point guard. My whole life. Although my first two years at St. Anthony’s, I played with Myles Mack, who is at Rutgers now. I played off the ball a decent amount, but not nearly as much as I was last year with Larry (Drew). Last year playing off the ball encouraged me to go and rebound more. Go get the ball.
You are a unique point guard. Who do you try and pattern your game after?
I’ve always enjoyed watching NBA Classic and seeing Magic Johnson — the way he made his teammates so much better and the way he’d handle the ball and put guys on his hip. Even before I grew, I admired him. Obviously, I’m nowhere near Magic, but we’re both big point guards. He’s one of the best players ever to play the game. Other guys I liked to watch tape of are Penny Hardaway and Steve Smith.
Who gave you the nickname Slow-Mo?
It was this guy named Hassan, who used to commentate over the loud speaker at the IS8 league in New York. I was a young player and he gave me the nickname and it stuck. I loved it. It’s just the way I am. I don’t intend to play slow, but it’s just the way my game is.
How good is Alford’s son, Bryce? Can you guys play together?
He’s a very good player and can do a lot of things. He’s good with the ball in his hands and finds people. He can create for himself and what he can also do is really shoot the ball. I think we can play together in the backcourt because of his ability to shoot. He can definitely help us this year.
What did you wind up doing in the offseason — and what was your focus in terms of getting better?
I stayed in L.A. all summer for summer school. The biggest thing for me was my eating habits. It sounds silly, but it’s been my Kryptonite. I’ve never been big on eating healthy. I’ve started watching what I eat and it’s already paid off. I’m trying to make it a lifestyle. Sometimes I still cheat on my diet, but I’m already seeing a difference in my body. I played last year at 240 pounds. Now I’m down to 230, and it’s a lot more muscle. If I’m going to cheat on my diet, it’s probably going to be with fast food — maybe a grilled chicken sandwich at McDonald’s.
Most important thing you learned playing for legendary high school coach Bob Hurley?
Just taking everything one day and one practice at a time. Great practices lead to great games. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
Related: 2013-14 UCLA Preview
Favorite visiting venue to play in?
When I was able to come back close to home last year and play in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was great having my family there, but the arena was also unbelievable.
Colorado. People talk about the altitude, but you don’t believe them until you play there. I thought it was a myth, but it’s tough to breathe. No wonder why the Nuggets are so tough to beat at home.
Other coach in the league he would like to play for?
Sean Miller at Arizona. When he was the head coach at Xavier, he was the first one to offer me a scholarship. I was really young. I think he started recruiting me when I was in the eighth grade.
Who was the toughest player to guard last year in the Pac-12?
Arsalan Kazemi or Oregon. He has a motor like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and was much stronger and older than me. I couldn’t do anything with him.
Toughest defender you’ve gone up against?
Carlos Emory, also of Oregon. He’s a very good defender, another guy with a high motor who was stronger than me. It came down to experience and he had more than me, as tough as it is to say.
Best player you’ve ever played with?
Kyrie Irving. I played with him in an all-star game and he was just amazing. He can do everything. I was a young kid. He’s like poetry in motion.