Justin Anderson Locks Up USA Roster Spot
June 10, 2009 - Colorado Springs, Colo.
At 15 years old, Justin Anderson already has reached a career milestone. The 6-5 guard/forward from Montross, Va., learned on Monday evening that he will wear a USA jersey as one of 12 players named to the inaugural 2009 USA Basketball Men's U16 National Team. The selections were made by the USA Basketball Men's Developmental National Team Committee following three days of training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
'This is the biggest accomplishment I feel like I have made in my whole life,' Anderson said. 'Last night, I don't think it hit me until right before I went to sleep. I was like, 'Wow, this is big.' What 15-year-old do you know in the world that has a chance to come out and play with a 16-and-under USA Basketball team? It's a once in a lifetime thing.'
Competing against 18 of the nation's best talent age 16-years-old or younger for just 12 roster spots, Anderson admitted the two-a-day practices of training camp were much more difficult than he expected.
'It's always school and then practice when I'm at home. I might work out right before or right after our practice, but I have never worked out two times a day before. This is my first time, and it's really showing. My body is cramped up and sore.'
At 6,200 feet above sea level, altitude has an impact on the athletes as well, as they struggle with less oxygen in the air. Yet, despite the grueling routine, Anderson denies any suggestion that he might struggle to find motivation.
'My dad has always told me, 'You got to be mentally tough. You got to fight through it.' As I was catching cramps in a practice, the trainer was telling me, 'Get down so I can stretch you out.' I denied him because you have to fight through it. There is not always going to be somebody there to help you stretch it out. You have to learn to fight through it and stretch it out yourself.'
Anderson said his father, Edward Anderson, Jr., and his brother, E.J. Anderson, who played basketball at Mary Washington College, not only preach mental toughness to the youngest member of the family, they regularly test him.
'Since I was young, I would always get beat,' Anderson said. 'My dad said the best thing to do to a basketball player is have him get beat. Sometimes you have some of these players out here who are so good, and they never get beat. They never play competition that is going to beat them, and they get so big-headed. Almost once a week when I am at home, my brother has somebody that is going to beat me. It's somebody who is going to give it to me and show me, 'Hey, you are nothing.''
Anderson credits that training for part of his success here at USA Basketball, but he also credits USA head coach Don Showalter and assistant coaches Herman Harried and Kevin Sutton, as well as his USA teammates, for helping to take his game to another level.
'Well, me being one of the younger people here, I'm playing as hard as I can, but you also have really, really great players out here, and they are making me better. I know I have gotten at least two times better than I was because the coaches push you every day. It's different things that you learn about your game, and you learn how to put it in - not just working on it, but you learn the situations that you put it into. That's helped out a lot.'
The inaugural USA Basketball Men's U16 National Team will train through Friday, June 12, before departing for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship July 17-21 in Mendoza, Argentina. Not only is the USA in the hunt for a gold medal, but the top three finishing teams will qualify for the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship, which will be played next July in Hamburg, Germany. Despite the expectation of gold, Anderson denied feeling any pressure.
'I don't really believe in pressure. Pressure is trying to overcome something that people think you can't do, or people putting you on a pedestal for doing something really well. There are times when I might be down on myself for about two minutes, but then I tell myself positive things. I tell myself I need to go twice as hard as I did yesterday, or I need to go twice as hard as I think I can go because that is what it is going to take for us to win a gold medal.'
One of the biggest challenges the USA will face is developing team chemistry in just a week's worth of training as a 12-member unit, but Anderson said already he is clear about his role on this team.
'Well, I know myself. I'm a pretty decent player. I have very good athletic ability, but what I come back to all the time is defense. I love defense, and that's something that a lot of players don't like. A lot players might say that they like defense, but they can't play defense worth anything - they are just really good offensive players. And I'm not saying that is a bad basketball player, but to have the complete package, you need to have defense.'
No matter the outcome, Anderson remains grateful and he said he is committed to making the most of this experience.
'No one from USA Basketball had to give me this opportunity. They flew me out here. They are feeding me. They are taking care of me. Those are things that a parent would do. It's my responsibility to take advantage of this opportunity.'
He doesn't pretend, however, that anything less that gold is what he is after. And the chance to hang one around his neck? Anderson said it would be a dream comes true.
'It would mean a lot. Me being a 15-year-old, it would mean a lot. There are 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds that are still out there trying to win a gold medal, and if I win one at 15, that's big. Hopefully we can go out and win this for our country.'