Former Kentucky basketball standout Derek Anderson, who played in the NBA for 11 seasons, opened some eyes at Washington Middle School when he visited Evansville on Wednesday.
Anderson is on a promotional tour for his book “Stamina” but the more important thing to him is to deliver his message to kids about staying strong and chasing dreams.
Anderson had plenty of obstacles growing up as a young teen in Louisville. His older brother ran away from home. His dad, who was having substances issues, also left. Then his mother abandoned him. He also had a half-sister stabbed to death by a friend of his father.
And if all that wasn’t enough discouragement. Anderson ended up becoming a father at 14 and taking custody of his son at 15.
“I was homeless for about three years,” said Anderson. “I was going house to house, staying different places to sleep (including in alleys, homeless shelters and occasionally a gymnasium). I was just trying to find my way.
“Then I ended up staying at a high school girlfriend’s house and she gets pregnant.”
Not giving up is why he titled his book “Stamina,” said Anderson.
“It was a really hard struggle, but I never gave in, never gave up, and that’s why I made it.”
His basketball skill made his path a little easier. He won a national championship with the Wildcats in 1996 and might have won another if not for a season-ending knee injury in 1997.
Injuries followed him throughout his NBA career, too, as he bounced around with seven teams. But in 2006, he earned another championship ring with the Miami Heat. His career ended two years later in Charlotte.
One of his greatest “hurts” was knowing that his father and mother never came to see him play in college or in the NBA. He’s not even certain they followed his career from afar.
But when Anderson became a Christian, he said he found forgiveness for the actions of his parents. He said getting his mother back in his life was what inspired him to write the book.
“I finally got her back in my life after 28 years,” said Anderson. “That was motivation enough for me to say, ‘You know what? I need to help someone else who is dealing with this (abandonment). I needed to help somebody get through it.”
How tough was it to reach out and search for his parents?
“It was tough but only because I didn’t do anything about it for years. Once I did it, it was easy. It was tough not doing it. Everyday I’d wake up and say, ‘Man, should I find them?’ But I’d always say, ‘No.’ … But something just woke up in me one day. I gave my life to God and I said I want to try. When something like that hits you, you can’t ignore the moment.
“A lot of people ignore their purpose in life, and they struggle. I just knew I had to do something different. I wasn’t going to allow myself to live a life without at least trying (to have a relationship with his parents). If they don’t won’t to do it, then at least I knew that I had tried.”
He said both his parents finally gave him the acceptance he needed and he in turn helped make their lives easier, including sending his mother to rehab for alcohol and drug addictions.
All those issues he had to resolve are why Anderson believes at-risk students in middle schools and high schools can relate to him. And learn from him.
He says that at nearly every school he visits he leaves with the name of at least one more student that he will follow up with on a regular basis.
“Ask anyone who knows me, I check on these kids all the time. My whole history is about keeping up with people. Of the 14 kids I’ve given scholarships, 12 have graduated.
“I do it because it’s important. You can’t just say something and leave because they’ll go back to the same situation. But if you stay on them, you can motivate them.”