True story. DeMario Anderson sauntered into a restaurant on Whitney Ave. in Hamden, CT, sporting a black fitted hat with “D.C.” emblazoned on the front. Suddenly, Anderson encountered two model-slender and alarmingly pretty young women.
Both were fans of the burgeoning basketball team at Quinnipiac University, where in two seasons the Oxon Hill, MD product left a lasting legacy few can eclipse.
“Can I just shake your hand?” asked one woman, her eyeballs blazing a la mini-fireballs.
Anderson, “D.A.” to the blossoming basketball culture at Quinnipiac, responded with his hallmark ear-to-ear smile. Taken aback, Anderson trickled into laughter. When Anderson asked why they sought his permission (he would later explain no one ever asked to shake his hand), one of the smokeshows was quick to answer: “Because you’re like… famous.”
A bundle of talent, innate scoring ability, and immeasurable intangibles. A winning personality. An uncanny ability to thrive in the fiend-like face of adversity. These facets helped Anderson skyrocket to small-school stardom.
Anderson is a full package. He’s an intriguing blend of leadership, strength and talent. He’s 6-3 (maybe 6-3 and change) with a penchant for losing defenders off the dribble and scoring buckets by the bunches. Because of this, Anderson—who cooked opponents to the recipe of 21.7 points and 6.5 boards per game his senior year—is prolonging an unpredictable basketball career on foreign soil.
Anderson’s collegiate career began at Central Connecticut, included a pass through in New York City, and ended in storybook style at Quinnipiac, Central’s traditional blood rival.
Anderson averaged 15 ppg for Spotter Leuven in Belgium’s professional basketball league. The guard/swingman flourished during the January-February period, as he shot the rock at a sublime 51.1 percent clip. Anderson scored 22 points (9-14 FG) and tore down 6 boards during a pivotal win over Antwerp.
“C’mon, it’s the pros dog,” said Anderson, when asked if his scoring average skyrocketed. “I mean it’s an adjustment, most definitely, but it’s nothing too crazy. I wouldn’t describe it as a quantum leap. I mean you see the differences in the pace and the competition level.”
Despite his function as the Bobcats’ clear go-to-guy, a wing whom they featured nearly every game, Anderson peddled a team-high 91 dimes as a senior in ‘07-08. He was a prolific scorer camouflaged as a playmaker. It’s simply what his coach expected of him.
Tom Moore, the former UConn assistant (Moore served as the Associate Head Coach during his final two years at the Big East’s NBA factory), said he was sold on Anderson’s upside since he opted to take the bread-heavy Quinnipiac job in March of 2007.
“You become mercenary and see what type of hand you’ll be dealt if you do decide to take a job,” explained Moore in an interview with the New Haven Register last year. “I knew what I was getting from him. I wanted to give him some ownership of this team, that’s how much I thought of him. He made this year seamless for me, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that.” Ever humble, Anderson deflects most of the praise that’s been sprinkled on him over the past year. He’s certainly not shy, however, when it comes to the subject of his hoops future. “Basketball is definitely in my future,” said Anderson in his thick Washington, DC drawl. “I’m definitely trying to get to the League. I mean, it’s really been my goal for a while. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise.”
With a streetball-like savvy and an arsenal moves off the dribble and slashes to the cup, Anderson created matchup problems for nearly every team in the Northeast Conference last season. “DeMario is a better than a lot of Big East players,” opined Robert Morris Coach Mike Rice.
Rice guided the Colonials (24-11) to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992 this past season. It was Rice who coached and evaluated Anderson at various basketball camps and quickly concluded he’s not like the rest.
Putting the Bobcats on the Map
Quinnipiac, a hockey hotbed flooded with El Aziza hot young females, was striving for national hoops visibility since the University shelled out A-Rod money on the TD Banknorth Sports Center. The 3,500-seat arena dwarfs those of conference foes and would be fitting for an A-10 or MAAC school. It sits atop a hill, offering scenic views of New Haven (money craving, pistol waving, tattoo-blazin’ New Haven as it’s known in those parts) and Long Island Sound.
Moore, widely recognized for grooming a torrent of talent during his stay at UConn (see Butler, Caron or Gordon, Ben for more details) became the first coach in Anderson’s traveled five-year career (Anderson went to Global Institute in Manhattan for a year, sitting out to circumvent an NCAA rule that prevents a player from transferring schools in the same conference) to fully utilize the talent which cracked the surface.
Former coach Joe DeSantis’ system featured a motion offense that emphasized crisp ball movement and perimeter shooting. Playing in the wake of grief (Anderson’s mother, Lisa Duncan, died of cancer in 2006) his junior year, Anderson struggled getting acclimated to the new system. Through the first 10 games, he was locked in an unusual role of cast member.
“We still haven’t seen the real DeMario Anderson,” QU radio commentator Billy Mecca would say. Then one Saturday in December of 2006, the muscle-bound guard/forward hung 20 points on Vermont. D.A. quickly came into his own.
Anderson averaged 22.3 points over the final six games of the regular season and his evolution as the Bobcats’ feature player had the slowly growing basketball culture buzzing. He managed to do all this despite popping off the bench as the team’s sixth man. DeSantis, who took 10 seasons to reach his 100th win, opted to start senior three-point assailant Van Crafton instead.
Not Anderson’s senior year. Moore swooped in and ripped the straightjacket off D.A.’s back. The Bobcats’ offense allowed Anderson to execute the freelance manor y manor moves that makes Anderson such a unique threat. It was under Moore that Anderson’s game truly flourished, as he fled from a cloud of obscurity.
The University got what it wanted at the near-conclusion of the season.
Anderson avenged a loss at Central Connecticut by propelling the Bobcats to an overtime victory in pulsating fashion. With the score deadlocked at 73, Anderson launched a buzzer-beating, half-court prayer that splashed through the net, sending the gym into a frenzy. He then ran out of the Detrick Gymnasium, his teammates giving chase, to celebrate the glory.
The game-winner would shoot to No. 1 on Sports Center’s “Top Ten Plays” that Feb. 28 night. It later became a finalist for Pontiac’s Game-Changing performance.
Not bad for a kid who didn’t play organized ball until his junior year of high school, when he was employed as an instant sparkplug off the knot. At Oxon Hill High, the alma mater of former professional Michael Sweetney, Anderson re-wrote the record books. He immediately surfaced as one of Maryland’s top prep players garnering an All-County selection and an invite to the Capital Classic.
Last year, basketball junkies around the country were voting amongst game-changing plays made by first-class schools like North Carolina, Memphis, Indiana, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, and suddenly Quinnipiac. In that elite company, the name stands out like a white dude at The Source party.
The perception of a once-ailing program is slowly altering, despite the racial episodes that took place in the fall of 2009. Moore has also been under investigation by the NCAA, for his role in the recruitment of Nate Miles while coaching at UConn. Still, the light at the end of tunnel isn’t luminary, albeit it’s sure as hell visible.
D.A.’s eye-popper allows the school situated in the suburbs of New Haven County to be recognized for more than just the aforementioned political polls, prestigious Physical Therapy department, and nationally ranked hockey team.
Enhancing the Image?
When a school has grows by leaps and bounds as quickly as Quinnipiac—once the tiny, Division-II liberal arts school—high expectations, hype and hearsay tend to brew around campus faster than a freshman beer fest on spring weekend. There had been some hearsay about Quinnipiac eventually becoming a “Junior Ivy League.”
Whatever the University is doing to keep up with these Ivy League foes, Anderson certainly exacerbated Ivy League relations with his scoring prowess this season.
In an 85-63 dumping of Dartmouth back in December of 2007, Anderson used a compilation of mid-range jumpers and quick slashes to the hole to help blood-letter the Big Green. He finished with 27 points in 27 minutes. Against Cornell, Anderson turned in a 20-point showing—in the second half.
Against Sacred Heart mid-way through the season, Anderson scored 30 and had a hand in virtually every play. It was a down-to-the-wire clash that culminated in video game fashion. When the Pioneers’ Drew Shubik drained a trey, Anderson would answer with a trey of his own. When Shubik got free for a lay-in, D.A. would knife through two defenders and complete a reverse layup. In the end, however, the D.A. Transit ran out of gas as the Bobcats suffered a dizzying one-point loss.
“I’m not even going to vote for Player of the Year,” said Moore after that game. “I’m just going to send the [game] tape in. If he doesn’t get [Player of the Year], that would just be criminal.”
D.A. backed up his coach’s lavish praise the following game when the Bobcats walloped lowly St. Francis (PA) at home. DA did his best Chris Paul impression that game—handing out a game-high six dimes. When they tried to trap him, they weren’t there in time. When they keyed on him, his teammates were beneficiaries of his presence.
Dickenman Saga: Squashing the Beef
Anderson emerged into Central Connecticut’s leading scorer as a sophomore, averaging 14 points. He turned in a Godzilla-like, 32-point eruption against, oddly enough, Quinnipiac.
But Anderson’s career as a Blue Devil would hit a major pothole after a scholarship dispute with head coach Howie Dickenman was thrust to the forefront. At the end of his sophomore year at Central, Anderson asked to be released from his scholarship. Dickenman, who, like Moore is a Jim Calhoun disciple, refused to meet his wish.
“There isn’t really any hard feelings between us [anymore],” said Anderson, who’s still tight with former Blue Devil guard and 2007 NEC Player of the Year Javier Mojica, now a professional in Puerto Rico.
“He (Dickenman) just never let me out. That got real personal because it not only changed my basketball future but my academic future as well. It made it real difficult. I thought it was unheard of. Me and my family now understand what type of coach he was.”
Dickenman maintains that there’s another side to it. He explained to the New Haven Register that Anderson didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to appeal the decision. “I don’t think [Anderson’s decision to transfer] had to do with him bumping heads with coach really,” said Justin Chiera, the former three-point assassin for Central who works as a basketball instructor in New Jersey.
“He just wasn’t happy [at Central], it was a personal decision of his. That’s the real reason why he left. As far as how his career went, I honestly think he would have done his thing either way, had he stayed at Central. Just having him on the court was such a luxury, because with D.A., there’s just so much he can do when the rock is in his hands.”
You’ll find that few facts of life, no matter how scathing, can infect the fun-loving Anderson.He was forced to be extremely self-reliant in the months following his mother’s death.
He was 22 at the time, getting acclimatized to a new environment, a new coaching staff, and a new situation. Just like when he was a teenager occasionally ducking bullets on the hardscrabble playgrounds from which he materialized, Anderson accentuated the positive. He knows he was blessed. “She just gave me this gift,” Anderson said. “I got to pursue it as hard as I can.”
His senior year, he carried a photograph of his mother with him every away game. Anderson has also been instrumental in the upbringing of his younger sister, Parris. He has her name India inked on his right arm.
His senior season, Anderson lost his grandfather and was forced to miss a pair of games against Wagner and Monmouth. After returning to Connecticut from the funeral, Anderson responded in the wake of grief (once again), pouring in 25 points while inhaling 11 boards in a loss to Sacred Heart.
Anderson, along with teammates Louis Brookins (who’s since graduated), Jeremy and Evann Baker, all hail from the DC-area. Former Quinnipiac forwards Victor Akinyanju and Kevin Jolley, also from Maryland/DC areas, are having prosperous careers over the waters.
Exactly when DC became the Quinnipiac pipeline is still open to question. Most people can date it back to Rob Monroe, the trigger-happy 5-10 guard. Monroe, who occasionally went off for 40-spots his senior season, became one of the NCAA’s elite scorers (while also cracking the nation’s upper-echelon in the assists-per-game category) during his final season (‘04-05) with the Bobcats.
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.