Sunday, February 2, 1997
Anderson: no regrets, no looking back

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Derek Anderson makes himself useful Saturday, forming a Y when the cheerleaders spelled out Kentucky.
(AP photo)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Derek Anderson is a marvel of modern medicine and old-time religion.

Ten days off the operating table, and his knee feels nearly good as new. Anderson has already lost his limp, and the temptation to park in handicapped spaces. But what is really remarkable about the sidelined Kentucky basketball star are the things he never lost: his confidence, his hope, his faith.

''Without being preachy, I think it's Satan trying to bring me down,'' Anderson said Saturday. ''You get hurt and you start to think, 'I'm going to go drink my problems away.' But I've never had that problem. I think my faith has always overcome things like this. That's why I'm happy now. There's not a day that's gone by that I haven't had a smile.''

If Anderson were bitter, he could not be blamed. Two weeks ago, he was the star of college basketball's defending champions, an aspiring All-American, a sure-fire NBA millionaire. Then he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, and all his exclamation points became question marks. He was thought done for the season and would enter the draft as damaged goods.

No regrets

Anderson's fate makes a compelling argument that it is folly for an athlete to stay in school when he can make it rich in the pros. Yet Anderson himself has not been persuaded. He won't forget but can't regret what he did for love.

''Injuries are part of the game,'' he said. ''The first day, it was kind of disappointing because I thought that I would be back. It was like thinking you won the lottery and finding out you had the wrong number.

''But I've always said that life goes on. If I never play basketball again, I'm going to be a successful person in whatever I do. I don't look at the past because then I would be asking myself that the rest of my life. I put everything behind me. Like Mike Ditka said, the past is for cowards.''

The future belongs to the bold, and Derek Anderson surely qualifies on this score. Saturday, in his first post-surgical press conference, he held out the possibility that he could be back in time to play in the NCAA Tournament.

This is a long-shot, to be sure, but Derek Anderson has made longer shots.

''I think Derek could warm up, shoot some technicals (fouls) if need be,'' said UK coach Rick Pitino. ''But I've never seen a guy come back from surgery and do what he's doing so soon.''

Anderson is already able to make most of the moves required of a big-time basketball player, but he is making his cuts at a cautious speed. Dr. David Caborn, UK's orthopedic consultant, said Anderson's recovery has been relatively rapid, but that he would prefer to think in terms of six months instead of Final Four.

''I think there's a tiny, tiny chance,'' Caborn said of the possibility that Anderson could play again this season. ''But I think you should never remove that chance because it's important motivationally for him.''

Anderson does not appear inclined to push his luck. He has been through knee surgery and understands the rigors of rehabilitation. He also knows that to rush his return would risk aggravating his injury.

Wildcats cope rather well

Plus, it becomes increasingly difficult to see any purpose in it. UK is 4-0 since Anderson's injury, and Saturday smoked a distinguished Georgia team, 82-57. The third-ranked Wildcats are now 20-2, and have absorbed Anderson's loss as if it were a double dribble.

''You hate to say that losing Derek has made them a more complete team,'' said Georgia coach Tubby Smith, ''but it may have.''

The Wildcats would seem less complete without Anderson's three-point shot and dynamic transition game, but they could be more competitive. They pick up more loose balls and more floor burns. They guard more closely at a greater distance from the basket. They have substituted effort for elegance.

Derek Anderson wonders now whether he wouldn't disrupt his team's chemistry if he came back. He has made peace with the possibility of spending the Final Four as a spectator.

''If we get that far,'' he said, ''I'll feel I was just in foul trouble.''