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Versatility is this Spartan's game

Alan Anderson isn't limited to one specialty or position, giving MSU an extra edge or two.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003


TAMPA -- For a guy whose game is a blend of quality components -- but with no glaring strength or weakness -- Alan Anderson wouldn't seem like a person who evokes a strong and consistent reaction.

But to a man in the Michigan State locker room, ask about Anderson and the following word will be, unfailingly, at the beginning of the response:

Versatile.

Forward Aloysius Anagonye on Anderson: "He's the most versatile player I've seen in a long time."

Guard Kelvin Torbert: "He's one of those guys who goes out and does everything, a versatile player."

Forward Adam Ballinger: "He's so versatile."

And ... Alan Anderson: "That's why coach (Tom Izzo) recruited me. He saw the versatility."

Okay, we get it, he's versatile.

Anderson, a sophomore guard/forward, is the glue that holds Michigan State together. There is no aspect of the game at which he excels, but he's good at everything and, at 6-6 and a well-balanced 220 pounds, can play four positions with aplomb.

"My role is to do what's asked -- bringing up the ball, passing, rebounding, shooting, playing defense," Anderson said.

Over much of this season, since the Spartans do not have a true point guard, he has been MSU's primary ballhandler.

No sweat.

Performing that duty in Friday's 79-64 opening-round win over Colorado, Anderson had a game-high seven assists, along with 14 points and two turnovers.

He also made 6 of 6 free throws and played good defense on the perimeter against Colorado sharpshooter Blair Wilson, slasher Michel Morandais and point guard James Wright. Last season, when he played in the post more frequently, he shared the team's defensive MVP award with Torbert.

Anderson touches all aspects of the stat sheet. He is second on MSU in scoring (9.7), second in assists (3.3), fourth in rebounding (3.6), third in steals (21) and third in field-goal percentage (50.6).

"Last year we were pretty thin, so he played anywhere from the point guard to the post man, and that was as a freshman," Ballinger said. "He's a great passer, a great ballhandler. He's getting much better at shooting, he's got a good mid-range game, and he's a good defensive player."

If Anderson has a weakness, it would be his outside shooting. He is reluctant to fire from long range, but his success rate -- a respectable 33 percent on 3-pointers for his career -- suggests his potential.

He said his biggest strength is driving to the basket. But his focus fluctuates with whatever MSU needs that day.

"He goes out every game looking to do what needs to be done for us to win," Ballinger said.

Anderson's development has been surprisingly swift. He entered MSU as part of a recruiting class that included all-world prep standout Torbert and offense-oriented guard Chris Hill, MSU's leading scorer this season at 14 points per game.

Anderson, meanwhile, missed much of his senior year because of a sprained ankle, which kept him sidelined a few more months after the season. Thus he slipped on campus with moderate expectations.

A native of Minneapolis, he was lured to East Lansing in part because of Michigan State's 2000 national championship team, especially its performance in the title game against Florida.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Anderson said. "I remember (MSU guard) Mateen (Cleaves) coming back from the injury, and I remember (Michigan State) attacking Florida."

Last season, Anderson rapidly assimilated into a rebuilding Spartans team, averaging 6.5 points and 4.2 rebounds and setting the stage for his do-it-all role this season.

Anderson's contribution has included leadership. He is one of the more outspoken Spartans, speaking clearly and confidently about his vision for MSU -- to return to the Final Four.

"To come in here as a freshman and pay as much as he did, you've got to be confident," Ballinger said.

Anderson also helps keep the atmosphere loose on a close-knit team.

"He's always joking around, he keeps everybody's spirits up," Ballinger said. "He does a good job of bringing everyone together."

Anagonye, a senior, said Anderson is becoming the team leader -- but he's not there yet.

"He's grown as a person, his maturity level, the things he says, the way he interacts with his coaches and teammates" Anagonye said.

Then he added, smiling: "I know I'm impressed, but he's still got a little ways to go."

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