RMU's Anderson perseveres to lead on the court
By Bob Cohn
Published: Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The well-traveled basketball life of Karvel Anderson has embraced frustration, academic problems, three junior colleges, a broken wrist, a car crash, a blown tire and a mistake that might have ruined everything.
Amid all that, real life posed the bigger challenge.
“You just scratch your head sometimes because you can't comprehend some of the decisions he had to make or some of the situations he was in way before he should have been in situations like that,” said Robert Morris coach Andy Toole, who gave Anderson a chance when no one else would.
“He's had more excuses lined up and ready to rock than anybody. But he refuses to use them.”
Even fifth-year senior Velton Jones, a tough point guard from Philadelphia who has dealt with his share of adversity, marvels at Anderson's fortitude.
“His background is amazing,” Jones said. “It shows me how truly blessed I am and how blessed our team is. I told him before, ‘I'm glad I met you.' It's a mind-boggling thing that someone could go through all that and be in the position he's in now.”
A transfer from Glen Oaks Community College, his third junior college in three years, Anderson has varied skills but is mainly at Robert Morris to put the ball in the basket. He was second in scoring for the Colonials entering Saturday's game against Monmouth. In his first start last month, the 6-foot-2 guard scored 28 points against Ohio, making 8 of 9 3-point attempts.
“You think his shot is going in every time,” Toole said.
It's a sweet, quick-release shot, his ticket to college and Division I basketball and eventually a life beyond the game. But he said he was not a natural. He had to learn how to shoot.
For a long period, that was the least of his concerns.
“It was overwhelming for me at a point,” he said of his problems back home in Elkhart, Ind. “There was a point where I was failing. There were a lot of times where I'd take one step forward and two steps back.”
But the likable Anderson seems to attract allies, especially those willing to dispense compassion and guidance. “It felt like every time I was ready to say, ‘Forget it,' somebody always stepped in,” he said.
‘It just happened'
Perhaps it was destiny that Anderson was born in a small Michigan town named Three Rivers. His mother, Kecoria Anderson, was 14 at the time. He grew up in Elkhart, a city of about 51,000 near South Bend, Ind., whose economy collapsed when much of the recreational vehicle industry dried up during the great recession.
In January 2008, Kecoria Anderson, who several years earlier received probation for a drug bust in Michigan, was arrested for cocaine trafficking. She not only sold but used, illustrating her habit by recalling an instance of braiding her son's air while she was “wasted on drugs.”
Anderson has two younger sisters, Mylekia, 19, who attends Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., and Ja'Neal, 12. Each has a different father.
Anderson's mother spent two months in the county jail and began her sentence (31⁄2 to six years) in late 2009. She was released in February 2011 on good behavior. She works in a factory that makes RV frames, takes online college courses and cares for Ja'Neal. Today she says she is drug- and alcohol-free.
Even before the arrest, Anderson and his mother had drifted apart. After she split up with her boyfriend and moved into an apartment with the girls, Anderson wanted no part of it.
He said he refused to move in with his mom and chose instead to sleep under a bridge next to Elkhart's McNaughton Park, where he played basketball. He was 15, entering his sophomore year at Elkhart Memorial High School.
“Not having a place to stay is terrible,” he said, but living in the park “wasn't too bad. ... It rained once, but I never had a weather experience that made me uncomfortable.”
Kecoria Anderson said her son was “gone a lot” but said she had no idea he was living in a park. Anderson said his only clothes were one pair each of jeans, basketball shorts, sweat pants, socks and a coat from his grandfather. He washed his face and brushed his teeth at nearby Elkhart General Hospital. When school opened he arrived at 6 a.m. and showered. He ate at a recreation center in the park that gave out free lunches and sometimes stole food from the supermarket.
He also admits he stole a blanket from K-Mart.
“I'm not a thief or anything like that,” Anderson said. “It was a situation where. ... I don't know. It just happened.”
Out of the park
As a freshman, Anderson said he struggled on the court and in the classroom. But a new coaching staff, including assistant Jerel Jackson, arrived the following season. A longtime Elkhart resident, Jackson was a respected mentor off and on the court to area youngsters. He knew about Anderson from the playground.
“He was a little, fiery kid,” Jackson said. “Real quiet but fiery on the court. I thought, ‘I kind of like his style.' ”
Starting in the fall of his sophomore year, Anderson spent hours with Jackson working on his shot.
“I never could shoot until I started working with coach Jackson,” Anderson recalled. “I had no jump shot — at all.”
Driving Anderson “home” from school, Jackson said Anderson always told him to let him off a friend's house. Jackson said he wondered about that. Eventually, he said, he overheard kids talking about another who lived in the park. Anderson denied it was him, but Jackson said he heard the same thing from some teachers.
At a restaurant, Jackson got Anderson to confess. Both tell the same story, of Anderson recounting his life, almost coming to tears, and Jackson reaching across the table to put his hand on top of Anderson's. “I got you,” he said.
Anderson moved out of the park and in with Jackson and his wife for a few days before starting a circuit of staying with friends and family, eventually settling in with his grandparents. He said he never stayed long because he did not want to impose. At the house of one friend, the father, Doug Keck, helped with his classwork.
“It was just a certain bond that developed,” Keck said. “Karvel has a great personality. A very quiet and humble kid. Kind to people, not afraid to work hard and stick his nose in there.”
Anderson said Keck pushed him to study harder. Said Keck, “Karvel had the mind to do the work, but he didn't have the effort or the push. I told him he was doing himself a great disservice if he didn't get his grades in line.”
Working his tail off
During his junior and senior years Anderson improved in the classroom and became a force on the court, finishing among the top career scorers at Elkhart Memorial. But there still were low moments, especially Senior Night, when Anderson — his mother in prison, his grandfather busy with two jobs and his grandmother ill — walked unaccompanied to midcourt before the game.
Anderson said he was nervous and miserable beforehand, “but thank God I turned that moment into something different.” He scored 46 points, hitting 8 of 9 3-pointers.
“I think those nerves just turned into something else,” he said.
If Anderson had Division I skills, they were negated by his grades. Glen Oaks coach Steve Proefrock, who was present on Senior Night, offered Anderson a scholarship, but he turned it down. He wound up enduring unhappy experiences at two other junior colleges before reuniting with Proefrock.
About six weeks before the start of Glen Oaks' 2011-12 season, Anderson broke his right (shooting) wrist during a drill. Two screws were inserted and remained there, yet he averaged 24.9 points a game. The wrist always hurt, he said. In one game Anderson scored 25 first-half points before the hand froze up.
“He was everything for us,” said Proefrock, who often let Anderson leave practice early to help care for his grandmother back in Elkhart.
“His upbringing was pretty crazy, but he worked his tail off to get his degree, and I'm very proud of him for that,” Proefrock said. “He used his experiences to make him stronger. With his experiences, you don't stay the same. You go north or south. He was a joy to coach, a great leader for us. He loved the big-game atmosphere, and he was our hardest worker.”
Anderson's grades remained a red flag, and Glen Oaks' competition was considered suspect. Interest among Division I schools lagged until a tape of a 54-point game fell into the hands of Robert Morris assistant Michael Byrnes.
“Coach (Toole) said we needed someone who could make a jump shot,” Byrnes said.
That was Anderson. As usual, however, there were potholes. On his way to the airport for his visit, his girlfriend's car was hit by a drunk driver. He missed his plane, staying awake all night in the airport to make sure he made the rescheduled flight. After Toole decided he wanted him, Anderson still had 18 credits to make up during the summer. He took out a loan to foot the bill and successfully completed the work.
Finally, all seemed well. Then an undiscovered “D” from his first year in junior college surfaced, a clerical error, but one that could keep him out of school. He labored all night to fix it, writing two papers. After he was cleared the next morning, Anderson had barely pulled away for the drive to campus when a tire on his 1995 Pontiac blew out. The trip took six hours instead of three, but he made it. It's been the story of his life: nothing easy.
Toole said Anderson fits in well with the team and campus life, and his grades are good. The issue now is a badly bruised shooting hand, which has been slow to heal. But he will play through it. He has dealt with worse.
“No one can question how much he cares,” Toole said. “He is by far the most engaged new guy we've brought in during my time, in terms of ‘Coach, what do I need to do?' He understands that it could be way different.”
“Growing up, I believed everything that happened was bad,” Anderson said. “But now I look at things as another test for me, another obstacle, more adversity to prove to myself I can't be broken unless I want to be.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.
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