he next pure point guard strides across half court at the hallowed roundball grounds of Boston, Mass. His defender plays a step off, guarding against ankle-buckling embarrassment. In one fluid sequence - jab step, crossover - the Boston street legend sheds his mark, glides effortlessly into the lane, draws a pair of gullible foes and threads two points in the making to a lonely teammate.
"The best place to learn to play ball is in the park," says Anthony Anderson, the innovative torchbearer of UMass hoops.
Anderson, the man, grew up in Lynn, Mass. but Anderson, the player, refined his roundball dexterity on the unforgiving pavement of greater Boston playgrounds.
Unlike the controlled atmosphere of the hardwood, park ball is a one-on-one test of manhood that ends in Converse-crossing humiliation for one and props for another.
"It is a totally different atmosphere," Anderson proclaims. "It's where you learn. You learn how to act on the court, you learn how to take fouls without getting calls and you learn how to do a lot of tricks.
"The biggest thing is handling the ball and learning how to break somebody down one-on-one."
Gymnasiums across America sport capable point guards that know what it takes to win, while playgrounds breed ballers that know what it takes to dominate.
"A lot of players don't have to be park players," he argues. "But the best point guards are park players."
Gym rats drive to the rim, take a foul and go to the stripe. When playground handlers enter the lane, they are met with a gauntlet of elbows and low bridges. Anderson met these bruising tin guardians head on, but this year he is ready to meet a new challenge - expectations.
After spending a lifetime on the blacktop and a year away from the hardwood, Anderson wants nothing more than to be the point man in Act I of a new era in Amherst.
"I'm waiting to play, man," he exclaims. "I've been waiting a year and I just can't wait to get out there."
Anderson came to UMass as one of the top point prospects in the country, but grades forced him out of his freshman season. So for at least a year, lofty expectations were riding the pine.
Finally, over the summer, Anderson gave UMass fans a distant glimpse of what to expect from the one-guard spot this year. On the team's trip to Greece, arranged by incoming coach Steve Lappas, the inner city baller brought a handle to a team in desperate need of one.
"All I kept hearing last year was that we needed a good point guard and somebody who could handle the ball," he says. "I'm looking around like, 'I can do those things.'"
Anderson brought his blacktop mentality over the Atlantic, dropping nine points a game with over three assists and three boards. But aside from his gaudy stats, he took maybe the biggest step toward the future success of the program.
"[Coach and I] got really close in Greece. He just told me that it was going to be my job to run the team," Anderson recalls. "He didn't know what to expect from me, but after seeing me play for a little bit, I think he was happy with what I was doing."
After four years of watching the Minutemen struggle under the uneasy guidance of one incapable point guard after another, UMass fans may finally have a player who can lead - not to mention drive and dish.
Anderson is a point guard in the purest sense and although the 5-foot-11-inch slasher grew up in the Boston area, his game is modeled after some of New York's finest.
"Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, they all started in the park," he says.
Beantown isn't renowned as a factory for college stars, but the attitude and the characteristics of streetball remain the same, no matter what the setting. The park game is an endless array of alleys, outlets, fast breaks and oops - and is in many ways similar to Lappas' motion offense.
"It's organized freelance," says Lappas of his style of play that incorporates an enormous amount of off-ball movement and attacking the rim on the break.
Anderson fits into that system with a glove-like comfort level. For an entire childhood of playground ball, he has known no better than to grab a board and take off. He is just as schooled in the half court set. Streetball is a symphony of v-cuts and back screens that give Anderson the space to splash down from three-deep.
"I know coach likes to run and shoot threes," he says. "That's the type of offense I like to run."
Unlike the playground, Anderson doesn't have to shoot for teams. He knows his squad and he recognizes that it can only go as far as this street legend can take them. So don't be surprised if what he does is both remarkable and effortless. Because what he faces on the hardwood is nothing compared to the park.