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Filed under Sports, Top Stories

FHS basketball helps Anderson on his journey to a new life

FHS basketball helps Anderson on his journey to a new life

Photo: Alona Skipper

Anderson gives advice to a Firebird basketball player during a practice. Anderson says he's happy to be back in a gym again.

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As a young athlete, Dwight Anderson’s future was as bright as it could be. Consider the facts:

  • In 1977-78, Anderson averaged 38 points per game as a basketball player at Dayton’s Roth High School.
  • As a senior in 1978, he was named both a First Team Parade All-American Player and a McDonald’s All-American.
  • In college, Anderson played at Kentucky, where he earned the nickname “The Blur” because he was so quick, and then he transferred to USC, where his coach called him “the greatest athlete that I’ve ever coached.”
  • Nine-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins has called Anderson “one of the greatest college basketball players I’ve ever seen.” NBA great Isaiah Thomas even called Anderson the Michael Jordan of his era.
  • Anderson was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 1982 NBA Draft by Washington Bullets.

Now 52, Anderson is an assistant coach for the Fairmont Boys’ Varsity Basketball team. It may not have been a goal for him 35 years ago, but Anderson says he’s glad to be here.

Considered perhaps the best basketball player Dayton has ever produced, Anderson was expected to make his mark in the world of professional basketball. But drugs, alcohol and a series of poor judgments derailed that dream and landed him on the streets of Dayton.

In the summer of 2011, Anderson had been through rehab and was working his way back to a normal life when he crossed paths with Hank Bias, Fairmont Boys’ Varsity Basketball head coach, who invited him to join the staff. Becoming an assistant coach gives Anderson a second chance to bring his skills back onto the court.

A basketball phenom

Anderson started playing basketball as a kid in his Dayton neighborhood park. He outshined anyone he played, and he led the Roth High School Falcons to a state title in 1976. In addition to averaging 38 points per game, he averaged 14 rebounds and 11 assists in his senior year, and he was considered the No. 1 college prospect in the country.

Anderson continued his basketball career at the University of Kentucky in 1978-1980. He broke records and shined in college like he did in high school. “At the time, I was considered one of the fastest guards in college history because I could get a rebound and go down the court in a couple of dribbles,” said Anderson. He later transferred to the University of Southern California in 1981-1982 and was also a star in the West.

Anderson went into the NBA draft and was picked by the Washington Bullets, but his NBA experience didn’t go as planned. The fame and the money led to habits that ultimately took him out of the NBA and the game.

Anderson had taken to a life in the fast lane, spending his money on drugs and alcohol, habits that eventually left him homeless on the streets of Dayton. The former basketball star who once had the world in front of him was spending his nights in empty warehouses for shelter. His parents had wanted him close to them, but they weren’t able to trust him in the house. They would change the locks and put his bed outside.

Wanting a better life

A couple of years ago, some local friends as well as some basketball greats reached out to help Anderson free himself from his demons. They helped him get off the street and into rehab. But if it was going to work, Anderson had to want to change. And he did.

“I realized I needed to stop indulging myself in poison. That and getting my self-esteem back on point,” Anderson said. “Before, I didn’t realize that place was so hollow. It brought me closer to Father God, and it was time for me to see if I wanted to participate in life. And, yeah, of course I did!”

Anderson’s motivation to change came from looking at his own actions because he realized he wasn’t happy with the life he was leading. His experiences inspired him to speak to kids in the Dayton area about his journey.

“I did speaking engagements and I had the opportunity to come out here and speak to the Fairmont basketball team this summer about my story,” said Anderson. Bias and the team saw Anderson speak, and Bias was so intrigued by Anderson’s story that he offered him the assistant coach spot over the summer.

“At first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I bought into it real quick,” said Anderson.

Happy to be back in a gym

Anderson said the Firebird team and the court reminds him of his days in the game. “Being around this atmosphere just takes me back, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.

Bias says Anderson has helped the team in strategy and basics of the game of basketball, along with life lessons. “He influences us by the way he approaches the game with a very aggressive and attacking mentality,” said Bias.

During practices and before games, Anderson warms up with the team on the court and demonstrates his abilities. Senior point guards Jordan Glaser and Phillip Kidd say they think Anderson has helped them this season.

“He’s a legend and he’s really helped me become a better player,” said Glaser.

Kidd also has enjoyed learning from Anderson. “He’s a great guy. He cares more about us than himself, and he doesn’t let things bring him down,” said Kidd.

Kidd credits Anderson for not only improving his game, but also for shaping his personality as a player. “I used to be selfish on the court while playing point guard, but he has helped me improve that and get my teammates involved more,” said Kidd.

Anderson is also confident that he is making an impact on the team. “I know my words help in whatever arena I’m in and especially in what I do and what I love,” said Anderson.

Second chances

Bias knows Anderson has helped with his advice and in ways that can’t always be measured. “Dwight brings pure enjoyment of the game to practice every day, and I think there are times that I feed off of his enthusiasm for the game and life,” said Bias.

Anderson has been described as nothing less than a humble and happy man. Bias said Anderson is always thankful for every day that he is able to participate in life.

Although the circumstances are different, both men are getting a second chance at life. Last year, Bias suffered a blood clot in his leg that had moved to his lung after a hip replacement surgery. It was a called a bilateral pulmonary embolism. Hospital workers weren’t sure Bias would survive; in fact, he was told to say goodbye to his family.

Bias survived his brush with death, and he got to offer a “do-over” to Anderson last summer. Anderson and Bias complement each other because they both know what a second chance feels like.

“Coach allows me to put my input in and I don’t step on his toes. I’m crazy about him because he’s nutty like me, in a good way. We talk all the time,” said Anderson.

On his journey back to health, Anderson has taken the right steps back into it by attending rehabilitation camps and looking at life from a different perspective.

“I should thank God for waking me up. I always pinch myself, to make sure it isn’t a dream,” said  Anderson.

Click HERE to see a video trailer of documentary about Anderson that is soon to be released.

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