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Bradley Hilltopics
Sport Scene Anderson Senior Salute

Spring 2006 • Volume 12, Issue 2

“J.J.” Anderson coaches the Grizzlies

by David Driver

Mitchell AndersonFormer Bradley hoop star Mitchell “J.J.” Anderson ‘82 was en route from Illinois to Iowa on a scouting trip in December 2004 when he received a call from Mike Fratello, who had just been named the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Anderson remembers the call clearly: he was eating alone at a restaurant late one night in Peoria, the scene of his college glory days for Bradley from 1978 to 1982. Fratello, a veteran coach in the NBA, wanted Anderson to join his staff as an assistant coach.

Anderson, who had been scouting for the Grizzlies, jumped at the chance for his second stint as an assistant coach with Memphis. Anderson played in the NBA with Utah and Philadelphia, and he was an assistant for two full seasons (2000-2002) under former Memphis head coach Sidney Lowe.

One of Anderson’s tasks is working with big men for the Grizzlies, who were 30-23 overall in late February. “I like the individual workouts with the players,” said Anderson, sitting courtside at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., prior to a Memphis road game midway through the 2005-06 season.

“I like taking care of personnel.” Anderson enjoys talking about post players and trying to figure out their tendencies. “Do they like to go left or right?” is one question he likes to ask about NBA big men.

Memphis forward Brian Cardinal, who attended Unity High School in Tolono, has worked under Anderson for the past two seasons. “First off, he is a great guy,” said the 6’8” Cardinal, who played at Purdue University. “He has done a real good job [with big guys]. Back in his day, he was an unbelievable scorer. It has helped us this year, as the team has focused more on inside play in its half-court offense.”

One of Anderson’s pupils is 7-footer Pau Gasol, a native of Spain who has become one of the top big men in the NBA in five seasons with Memphis. Anderson can relate to Gasol and 7’2” Memphis center Jake Tsakalidis, who was born in the Republic of Georgia but moved to Greece when he was 15. As a player, Anderson spent 11 years in Europe after playing in the NBA with Philadelphia and Utah from 1982-85. He played one season in Spain and Greece, part of a season in Germany, and eight seasons in Italy.

Anderson and Tsakalidis, who played four seasons in a top Greek league, share laughs about how they were supposed to tape their own ankles when they played in Europe. “So I didn’t tape,” Anderson said, with a grin. While playing in Italy, Anderson said Italian teammates told him about a story they read about him in a local paper. The article motivated Anderson to become more of a scorer for his team. “They expect [Americans] to lead the team in scoring [overseas]. If I have to score, I have to score,” Anderson told himself.

While playing for a Spanish team during the 1990s, Anderson once competed in Serbia while that region was the scene of ethnic violence. “We had a military escort to the hotel, and we were not allowed to leave the hotel except for the game,” he said.

The Chicago product, who turns 46 in August, enjoys challenges. As a Bradley student, Anderson took part in school plays and said that some of his basketball teammates came to see him perform on stage. “They were shocked and surprised that I remembered my lines,” Anderson said.

One of Anderson’s most memorable professors at Bradley was the late George Armstrong, assistant professor of communication, whom he had for English classes as a freshman and sophomore, and for a communications class. “I was always thinking he was unfair, but he was just preparing us for life,” Anderson said.

Does he keep tabs on Bradley hoops? “I try to follow them when I can. I wish [head coach Jim] Les the best,” Anderson said. Perhaps one day Anderson will be a head coach. “I would love to [coach] my own NBA team, or go to the college ranks. Right now I enjoy what I am doing.”

Editor’s note: David Driver, a free-lance writer from Cheverly, Maryland, has covered professional basketball in North America and Europe. This is his third article for Bradley Hilltopics.

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