EVANSVILLE — Basketball was Derek Anderson’s ticket to a better life, but he doesn’t believe that’s why he has been successful.
For that, the former University of Kentucky standout and 11-year NBA guard credits stamina.
He needed plenty of it, as well as tremendous perseverance, to survive growing up on the streets of Louisville, Ky.
“Every decision I made had a consequence, whether good or bad. It was a really hard struggle, but I never gave in, never gave up and that’s why I made it,” said Anderson, who took his message to an assembly at Washington Middle School on Friday.
Abandoned by both his parents, Anderson was homeless for most of three years as a young teen. He slept in alleys, on park benches, in a gym, in homeless shelters and occasionally in the homes of neighbors.
His half-sister was stabbed to death by a friend of his father. He was nearly stabbed in a fight. He became a father at age 14.
“I never had a summer of basketball camps,” said Anderson. “I got invited to all these camps all over the country, but I had to work those summers to take care of my son.
“Those responsibilities helped me grow up to be a man.”
Now 40, he’s focused on being a role model.
He’d like to have his book, “Stamina,” included in life-skills classes in schools, and he structured much of the book for that purpose.
Washington Middle School principal Jay Hille said several students have told him they want to read the book.
“All of my stories are about life, not about basketball,” said Anderson. “The basketball is to get their attention, but the message is what keeps their attention.”
After Friday’s assembly with 450 students, he stood at the door of the gym with his right hand raised so every student could high-five him. He also stuck around to sign autographs, including on a few sneakers.
“These are my favorite (crowds) because the stories hit home more,” said Anderson, who won an NCAA title with Kentucky in 1996 and an NBA championship in 2006 with the Miami Heat. “They just need someone’s example to follow. They follow rappers and all these entertainers, but they don’t understand the realities of life. But when I come in and talk to them, they understand exactly where I’m coming from because most of them have been through tough times — singles parents, family problems, being bullied. We relate to each other very well.”
Two Washington Middle School basketball players, Kyrique Presley and Jaylen Minor, said Anderson had inspired them even if they are too young to remember his career.
“I learned you’ve got to keep trying harder and keep pushing,” said Presley. “If you get down and you have nothing, you have to keep trying.”
Minor said Anderson told the students to take responsibility for their actions and not be influenced by the wrong crowd.
“I learned to just keep trying and do your own thing and you can make it big,” Minor said.
Anderson said reuniting with his parents, particularly his mother, provided the inspiration he needed to write the book.
“I had internal hurt because my mother and father never saw me play, never supported me in anything,” he said. “But when I finally found them, I realized they were good people who just had issues. I decided I could forgive them.
“Writing the book was therapeutic, very therapeutic. It helped me relieve a lot of anger and hurt I had all those years.”