Former Hoosier Eric Anderson dies at 48

Eric Anderson, a former Big Ten Freshman of the Year and four-year starter for the Hoosiers, has died at the age of 48.

Known to his teammates as “Big E,” the 6-foot-9 Anderson scored 1,715 points and grabbed 826 rebounds during his Indiana career, starting 118 of the 131 games he played at Indiana from 1989 through 1992.

Anderson played a part in 101 IU victories, occupying key roles on Indiana’s Big Ten championship teams in 1989 and 1991, and helping the Hoosiers to the Final Four in 1992.

“Eric was an outstanding player for us, right from the start — a four-year starter who was instrumental on some excellent, championship teams and a good friend to all of those guys who played with him,” former Indiana coach Bob Knight said in a statement. “It’s tragic to hear of his passing.”

Anderson was a decorated high school recruit for Knight, matriculating to IU from St. Francis de Sales High School in Chicago, where he was named Illinois Mr. Basketball and earned McDonald’s All-American honors in 1988. As a senior, Anderson led his team to an appearance in the Illinois Class AA finals, averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds while landing the 1988 March of Dimes Award as the top amateur athlete in Chicago.

At Indiana, Anderson made an instant impact.

On the way to earning the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year award, Anderson averaged 11.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and helped IU to a league championship in 1989.

“That was the most fun season I ever had,” Anderson told The Herald-Times in 2007. “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.”

The following year, Anderson was a key returner for a team welcoming in a highly-talented freshman class that included guards Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham and Pat Graham.

Cheaney, who would go on to become the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer, led the Hoosiers with 17.1 points per game as a freshman in 1990.

Anderson, meanwhile, was his steady self. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds for a young Hoosiers squad that would use that season as a springboard for the years to come.

“We came in as one of the most most celebrated recruiting classes and Big E was freshman of the year the year before we got there,” Pat Graham said. “None of us, including Calbert himself, knew just how good Cal was or was going to be. E was our guy. He was taking over with Jay Edwards’ departure as our best player. With today’s egos, it would be expected that there would be issues. But with Eric, there were none. No issues, no egos, no jealousy. That was just who Big E was.

“He was the perfect teammate and let everything just slide off his back. He took a lot of heat over his time at IU, not so much because of his play, but for others. He never complained. He knew if we won it just made things easier. He didn’t care who got the attention or the ink.”

Anderson, of course, commanded plenty of attention as a collegian.

He earned All-Big Ten First Team honors after averaging 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds during his junior season in 1991. Those contributions helped the Hoosiers to a conference title and a trip to the Southeast Regional semifinal, where Indiana ultimately fell to Kansas, 83-65.

“Eric was an unbelievable player, but more importantly a unbelievable person and friend,” Cheaney said. “He always lit up a room with his energy and smile. As a basketball player, he’s one of the best I ever played with. Unselfish, caring and did whatever it took to help us win; the consummate teammate. (He was) always a positive presence on and off the floor. He will be terribly missed by all of us in the IU family.”

The next year, Anderson’s senior campaign, the Hoosiers had the firepower to make a run to the 1992 Final Four — Knight’s last as IU coach.

Anderson would earn Most Outstanding Player honors for his work in the West Regional that spring, playing his way out of Knight’s doghouse.

A late-season loss at Purdue kept IU from claiming at least a piece of the Big Ten title, frustrating Knight and leading him to drop both Anderson and senior guard Jamal Meeks from his starting lineup ahead of the NCAA Tournament.

The benching seemed to have the desired effect on Anderson.

Although forced into a reserve role, Anderson played some of his best college basketball across his final few weeks in an IU uniform. He survived a matchup with future NBA star Shaquille O’Neal in a second-round IU victory, then led the Hoosiers with 24 points off the bench in a West Regional semifinal win over a Florida State team featuring Sam Cassell and Charlie Ward.

Anderson delivered again in the regional final against UCLA, posting 17 points off the bench to help the Hoosiers avenge an early-season loss to the Bruins with a 106-79 win when it mattered most.

At the time of his graduation, Anderson was Indiana’s sixth-leading scorer of all-time.

“Eric was an unbelievably talented basketball player but that paled in comparison to the type of friend and person he was,” Deputy Athletic Director Scott Dolson, a former roommate of Anderson’s, said in a statement. “This is a very difficult day for all who were close to him and our heart goes out to his son, Sam, his family and all those who Eric touched throughout his tragically short life.”

After his IU career was through, Anderson signed with the New York Knicks as an undrafted free agent, playing for the franchise from 1992 through 1994. Anderson later played three seasons overseas and finished his professional career with the Fort Wayne Fury of the Continental Basketball Association in 1998.

“Eric was a very fun-loving, laid-back guy,” former IU guard Damon Bailey said. “I was very fortunate to be able to play with him for two years at IU and a year in the CBA. Eric always had a way of putting things in perspective whether that was good times or bad. He will be missed by all that knew him the best.”

Second-year IU coach Archie Miller also expressed his appreciation for Anderson on Monday, tweeting his condolences.

“Sad to hear the passing of former IU great Eric Anderson,” Miller wrote. “I really appreciated how he embraced me coming to IU, communicated after games, him coming back last year to our reunion game and then this June to French Lick was awesome! RIP Big E. Thoughts and Prayers to ALL!”

6 comments

  1. Really sorry to hear this, Eric was my favorite player while he was playing during his career. He was a solid fundamental player who was physical inside and a strong rebounder. Terrific perimeter shooter and an intelligent player. Sad to hear this, 48 is way to young to die. My prayers to his family. Rest in peace Eric.

  2. Never figured on reading anything like this today. Under valued, moderately heralded and blue-collar as hell. But RMK knew exactly what we were getting when he slipped him past Lou. But even more so he damn near broke Keady’s heart when called and informed him he would be a Hoosier. Strong pulling down boards but even stronger blocking out. Went straight up, looked like an exclamation point shooting a 3.
    Way too young.

  3. Next season, Anderson will be at Indiana University. He’s the third Mr. Basketball of Illinois to play for Hoosier coach Bob Knight, following Brian Sloan of McLeansboro and Marty Simmons of Lawrenceville. Anderson admits that playing for the demanding Knight will be another challenge to meet.

    “I don’t like getting yelled at,” he said. “But I understand I can’t take things personally. Playing at Indiana is the best opportunity for me. I can prove that I can play for Coach Knight. I like that kind of challenge, too.”

    Off the court, Anderson has a 3.8 grade-point average. This semester, he is taking courses in calculus, theology, English, sociology and an honors course in science.

    “I don’t know what my major will be,” he said. “I like math. I like to play with numbers. Maybe I’ll try that.”

    Currently, Anderson’s only number is No. 1. (courtesy: Chicago Tribune)

    Rest in peace, Eric.

  4. This news is heart-breaking. He was far too young. I hope the Hoosier Nation will provide comfort to his family.

  5. Indy Star posted an article that said it was cardiac arrest possibly caused by a case of pneumonia he was fighting.

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