Boys basketball: Nothing easy about these 500

By JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
Published January 19, 2008

LAND O'LAKES - Trailing by two with eight seconds to play in overtime and a milestone hanging in the balance, Land O'Lakes called timeout just before Ridgewood senior Derrick Zio stepped to the free-throw line.

They call that icing the shooter, and it's just what Zio needed. Kid had a 104-degree fever.

He made 1 of 2. And on a night when the Rams appeared more likely to give coach Gary Anders a heart palpitation than victory No.500, it was huge.

"When you've got kids like Zio, winning a lot of games makes it a lot easier," Anders said.

The climax to Anders' landmark triumph wasn't only frenetic and feverish, it also was fitting, if only for the kids who sank the crucial shots. There was diminutive guard Alvin Satram's buzzer-beating jumper at the edge of the lane to force overtime. And Zio's free throw, and another by Kevin Burnell with 5.7 seconds to play that sealed the game.

Gritty characters, to be sure, but none are likely to ever grace a Division I roster.

And that's why, in a season where a new 500-game winner seems to be indoctrinated in the bay area every week, Anders' feat is the most impressive. In the simplest of terms, he has done the most with the least.

Not counting 2000 graduate Cory Seels (a transfer from Tampa), only one of Anders' players - Andrew Reed - has earned a Division I scholarship in his 28-plus seasons.

Some others in the local 500-win fraternity have had two Division I players on the same team. Nonetheless, Anders has had 15 20-win seasons and is a lock for a 16th with this, perhaps his best team ever.

"When you've got kids that are unselfish and are tough, then you can be competitive," Anders said. "And that's what we are."

Zio epitomized that resolve Friday. He hadn't eaten much all day, save for some chicken soup provided by 25-year-old assistant Joe Anders, Gary's son. When he arrived at school shortly after 7 a.m., Anders told him he'd respect Zio's decision if he chose not to play.

Zio entered with 2:06 to play in the first quarter. He finished with five points.

Ridgewood won by four.

"Those are the kind of guys that my dad's really thrived on," Joe Anders said.

Which isn't to suggest Anders has perpetually found himself bereft of talent. Six-foot-8 junior Lukas Poderis (18 points) likely will be Anders' next Division I signee, if sleek senior point guard Mike Lawrence (15 points) doesn't beat him to the punch.

Such guys are cornerstones.

Throw in guys whose fortitude compensates for shortfalls in size or skill, and you've got milestones.

"They," Anders said, "are all tough kids."