Kevin Anderson's now famous, high-arcing floater was seemingly an act of defiance.
In order to hit the shot heard ‘round Richmond -- the basket that helped the Spiders upset Vanderbilt on their road to the Sweet 16 -- Anderson first had to outfox Festus Ezeli. Anderson threw the ball up just before the center, who is 11 inches taller, got the chance to jump.
The 6-foot senior point guard, who was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year for the 2009-10 season, has embodied Richmond's giant-killer tag. The Spiders face another challenge when they take on top-seeded Kansas on Friday in their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1988.
Anderson's trademark shot also once served another purpose. Back in grade school, it was his way of making an extra buck.
Shirley Brown, who raised Anderson in Atlanta as a single mother until she remarried when he was a teenager, said her diminutive son was once so shy about taking shots in grade school that she offered a dollar for every one that he hoisted up during games. The two would break down film afterward to calculate the total, and inevitably Anderson would have to go with the floater to shoot over the defense.
“That was the only shot I would shoot,” Anderson said. “Whether I was wide open for a 3, I would shoot a floater, it didn’t matter.”
Brown, whose father was in the military, aggressively pushed Anderson to get better. He didn’t get an allowance growing up other than the money he earned during the games. She was hard on him with her critiques, wanting to make sure he played to the best of his ability.
“I call her Coach Brown,” Anderson said. “She loves me, and she analyzes my game every day. If I play bad, she chews me out. She lets me have it.”
Said Brown: “That’s my style. My mother was Korean. With an Asian upbringing, you’re tough on your kids.”
What put Anderson at a disadvantage was that he began high school 5-foot-1 and weighing 90 pounds. He remembers the numbers because he constantly thought about how his measurements would affect him on the court, and he charted his growth.
“Every time he went to the bathroom, you would hear the beep of the scale,” Brown said.
Anderson was overshadowed on his talented AAU team and transferred to a larger school (Peachtree Ridge High) only when he was a senior. But he showcased enough skills that Richmond coach Chris Mooney offered him a scholarship -- one that Anderson accepted before even visiting campus.
“His intelligence on the floor and his ability to make shots is so incredibly impressive,” Mooney said. “We knew right away we had something very special.”
Little did Mooney know that he had signed a player who would become the school’s second-leading all-time scorer (2,152 points). Besides being honored as the A-10 Player of the Year last season, when he averaged 17.8 points per game, Anderson was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Anderson declared for the NBA draft after Richmond‘s loss to Saint Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, but he returned for one final journey. He also decided to become more of a vocal leader.
“We all know how quiet Little Man is,” senior Kevin Smith said. “It speaks volumes to his growth as a player, how much he's come from being a quiet point guard to being a floor general, somebody who is able to lead a team by not only example but with his mouth, what he's able to bring to the team outside of just his play.”
While Anderson has struggled with his shot at times this season (.432 field goal percentage), he has come alive at the right time. He averaged 22 points during the Spiders’ championship run in the A-10 tournament and was named MVP. Against No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament last week, he scored 25 points including the hanging floater with 18.7 seconds left that extended the lead.
The floater was one that his mother instantly recognized.
“Everyone who remembers Kevin remembers that shot,” Brown said. “That was his hip pocket. If things weren’t going well, that was his shot. That was money.”
Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.