Persistence paid off for Anderson in ’91 run to the Final Four

Persistence paid off for Anderson in ’91 run to the Final Four

Catching up with … Eric Anderson

By Lynn Houser, Herald-Times Sports Writer

January 30, 2007

Indiana’s Eric Anderson (32) dribbles against Texas Tech in a game at the RCA Dome on Dec. 27, 1991. H-T file photo
From the Jan. 30, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

When Indiana closed out the 1991-92 regular season with a loss at Purdue, a setback that denied the Hoosiers a piece of the Big Ten title, coach Bob Knight was so disappointed with his basketball team that he walked home from the Monroe County Airport.

On that walk all the way back to Ellettsville, Knight vowed there would be changes. He was not happy with the play of his senior center, Eric Anderson, and his senior point guard, Jamal Meeks, and decided to drop both from the starting lineup as the Hoosiers entered NCAA Tournament play.

Having played poorly against Purdue and also against Michigan earlier that week, Anderson couldn’t hold the demotion against Knight.

“I was more upset with myself than him, and I didn’t want to go out like that,” he said last week from his office at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, where he is now the athletic director.

Knight wouldn’t even allow Anderson and Meeks to practice with the team that entire week.

“He told us our careers were done, told us to go home,” Anderson said.

Anderson and Meeks persisted in showing up for practice, but Knight turned them away each day. It wasn’t until the day the team left for Boise that Knight relented and allowed them to travel with the squad.

In the opening-game rout against Eastern Illinois, they didn’t get into the game until late – “just enough to mess with your average,” said Anderson, who was more determined than ever.

In the next three games, he played some of the best basketball of his four-year career. The second-round game put the Hoosiers up against LSU and its mammoth center, Shaquille O’Neal. Anderson went head-to-head with the future NBA great and posted a double-double, 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Hoosiers didn’t exactly shut down O’Neal, though. He still came up with 36 points and 12 rebounds in an 89-79 losing effort. What Anderson remembers about O’Neal’s performance was that he was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line.

“We played ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ and he still made every free throw,” Anderson said.

Indiana’s Eric Anderson (32) defends against Kentucky. H-T file photo
From the Jan. 30, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

In the next game against Florida State (Sam Cassell, Charlie Ward, etc.), Anderson led the Hoosiers with 24 points. And then against UCLA in the regional final, Anderson scored 17 points as the Hoosiers avenged an early-season loss to the Bruins with a 106-79 clinic.

Although the run ended at the hands of No. 1 Duke in the semifinals, Anderson finished on a high note. His 1,715 points is still good for ninth on IU’s all-time list, and his 826 rebounds is eighth. He started 118 games (fifth) and was on the winning end of 101 (third).

“The ’92 team played together for three years, knew each other pretty well,” Anderson said. “That great recruiting class (Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Pat Graham, Chris Reynolds, Matt Nover) was used to Big Ten battles and big games.

“Calbert was just a natural athlete and a pure shooter. Rarely do you have both of those together. And he was a lefty, which is a great ingredient.”

Anderson also played with another great scorer, Jay Edwards.

“I’ve never played with a better shooter in my life,” Anderson said of Edwards. “His range was phenomenal.”

Anderson was a freshman and Edwards a sophomore on IU’s 1989 Big Ten champions, also known as ‘The Little Team That Thinks It Can.’

Playing with a three-guard offense out of a rotation including Edwards, Meeks, Joe Hillman and Lyndon Jones, the Hoosiers overcame a rough pre-season and hit their stride in the Big Ten. They beat powerhouses Michigan and Illinois, who went on to reach the Final Four.

“That was the most fun season I ever had,” Anderson said. “Coach Knight doesn’t mess with freshmen very much. We were getting killed by teams before the Big Ten and nobody gave us a chance. Then something clicked.”

Anderson was named the league’s Freshman of the Year and called the ’89 title “my proudest achievement.”

Although he wasn’t drafted, Anderson signed with the New York Knicks and played two seasons in the NBA. He closed out his professional career with the Fort Wayne Fury of the CBA.

Although he still plays a little pick-up ball with another former Hoosier, Brian Evans, Anderson is content to be an athletic director for a new high school.

“This is right up my alley,” he said. “I grew up in Catholic schools in Chicago and I always wanted to work in an athletic setting.”

Anderson is now on Knight’s good side and has traveled to see some Texas Tech games. He also keeps an eye on Indiana.

“I like the way they are playing and getting back to getting after people,” he said. “I’m excited for them. I have watched them this year more than I have for a long time.”

ERIC ANDERSON

Age: 36

Occupation: Athletic Director, Guerin Catholic H.S., Noblesville

IU CAREER (1988-92)

• 1989 Big Ten Freshman of the Year

• Member of 1989, ’91 Big Ten Champions

• All-Big Ten, 1991

• Member of 1992 Final Four team

• Started 118 games (5th)

• 101 victories (3rd)

• Scored 1,715 points (9th)

• Collected 826 rebounds (8th)

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

• Played with the New York Knicks in 1993 and 1994

• Played with Fort Wayne Fury (CBA)