By Chris Kowalczyk
It's a balmy two degrees on this December day in Bismark, N.D. Just the other day, it dipped to negative eight, but people have assured Michael Anderson to wait until January, when it really gets cold. As usual, he seems unfazed.
"It's not as cold as Canada," he says, referring to his stops with Quebec and Halifax of the Premier Basketball League two years ago.
It's an optimistic tone for the well-traveled former VCU forward, but it's indicative of the Virginia Beach native's approach to his professional basketball career. Anderson, a member of the Rams' magical 2006-07 team that stunned Duke in the NCAA Tournament, is spending this winter with the Dakota Wizards of the NBA Developmental League, the NBA's minor league arm. D-League teams are typically affiliated with two or three NBA squads. Dakota's parent teams are the Memphis Grizzlies and the Washington Wizards.
Through the first 17 games, Anderson was averaging 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Wizards. On Dec. 18, he dropped a career-high 20 points and 14 rebounds on Texas Legends, led by NBA veteran Antonio Daniels.
It's by no means glorious. The 16-team league is scattered mostly throughout small towns like Bakersfield, Calif., Erie, Pa., Fort Wayne, Ind. and Sioux Falls, Iowa. It's a long way from the posh hotel suites that are custom for NBA players. Salaries for players in the D-League typically range from $12,000-$27,000, according to several published reports.
Despite the Spartan lifestyle, the rangy, 6-7, 205-lb forward, who averaged 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in his final two seasons at VCU, has never felt closer to his ultimate goal of landing a spot on an NBA roster.
"I just want to put on that NBA jersey and step onto that stage one time," Anderson said. "Really, all I want to do is make an NBA team. First, make the team and get a season in. That's what drives me to get up in the morning and outwork the guy in front of me."
An NBA future isn't out of the question. Since the D-League's inception in 2001, a number of players have become successful in the NBA, including Rafer Alston, Matt Barnes, Will Bynum, Stephen Graham, Jamario Moon and Bobby Simmons. During the 2009-10 season, a record 27 players were called up to NBA rosters.
Conceivably, Anderson could be playing in any one of the bevy of professional basketball leagues in Europe, where the money is pretty good. Anderson spent last season in Austria and Slovakia, where he averaged 18.4 points and 6.7 rebounds for BK Inter Bratislava.
Although he enjoyed Europe, there were a number of reasons Anderson decided to remain stateside this season. First and foremost, Anderson's mother, Christina Hill, for whom he displays the nickname, Hope, on a tattoo, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Hill has been receiving chemotherapy and her prognosis is very good, but Anderson is comfortable knowing that he's only a phone call away.
Additionally, Anderson thinks he's more visible to NBA teams right now. He tried out for the New York Knicks summer league team earlier this year and hopes a good season with the Wizards will go a long way.
"My goal is to make somebody's summer league team," Anderson said. "Overseas is always going to be there. I wanted to try my chances while I've still got this athleticism and I think the D-League is great exposure."