TAMPA — Basketball season started three months early for USF, and that's no problem for Ron Anderson Jr.
As the Bulls prepare for a trip in two weeks to an international tournament in Brazil, they have a new leader in Anderson, a 6-foot-8 junior power forward who sat out last season after transferring from Kansas State.
When a talented class of newcomers arrived this summer, Anderson called a mandatory team meeting to get all the players on the same page.
"I wanted to go around the room, see everybody's goals, individually and as a team, and I got some really good responses," he said. "Me sitting out last year, I saw a lot of the little things, the tiny things that could have been changed to hopefully change the outcome of a game."
He'll make his Bulls debut Aug. 9 wearing a red, white and blue uniform. USF will represent the United States in the Pan American University Basketball Championships in Salvador, Brazil, with five games against amateur teams from seven other countries in North, Central and South America.
For a team that will have three new starters and must replace last season's Big East leading scorer, NBA first-round draft pick Dominique Jones, the trip is a great chance to develop early chemistry.
"Success in Brazil is going to help the team," Anderson said. "A lot of new guys will get confidence, especially playing at this level. Confidence is one thing you need to be successful at this level. I know that firsthand."
Anderson, 20, has made a dramatic physical transformation in the past four years. At the start of his senior year in high school in Chattanooga, Tenn., he weighed 320 pounds. Through diet and conditioning, he has worked down to 240. He went two years without eating beef or pork, no easy thing for an athlete.
Anderson knew he had to get in shape to play college basketball at a high level. He went to Kansas State in the same recruiting class as Michael Beasley, now with the NBA's Timberwolves, and the transition wasn't easy, in part because he topped 300 pounds.
"My first day, I didn't think I was going to make it," Anderson said. "I told myself, 'This college thing is not for me.' "
After Beasley went to the NBA, Anderson's numbers improved as his weight dropped. He averaged 5.2 points and 5.3 rebounds off the bench as a sophomore in 2008-09 but decided to transfer and chose USF. Last season he made the most of sitting on the bench, as required under NCAA transfer rules.
"I was on the outside looking in, as well as the inside," Anderson said. "I practiced with the guys; I felt their pain. Everything they struggled with, everything going on in the locker room, I was a part of that. At the same time, come game night, I'm sitting over there like a manager. (The other players) were able to connect with me. I was able to experience a basketball season from a different perspective."
Coach Stan Heath said he'll put his frontcourt — with Anderson, returning starters Gus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous, and sophomore Toarlyn Fitzpatrick — up against any in the country. He's pleased by the progress he has seen in Anderson and eager to see him on the court.
"(Anderson is) in better shape, and he's gotten more explosiveness to his game," Heath said. "He's a very cerebral player. He understands how to handle double-teams, how to communicate with this teammates, and he has a really good knack for scoring in the low block area. I think every team wants that guy."
Anderson likes to play in the paint and will be a physical presence, something Heath wants to see as Anderson lines up against challenging post players in the Big East.
"(Anderson is) comfortable with his bread being buttered on that block, and I like that in him," Heath said.
If Anderson needed a model for how a leaner body can lead to a longer career, he could look to his father, Ron Sr., a 6-7 guard who played 10 seasons in the NBA, from 1984-94, and is still playing professionally in France at age 51. Ron Sr. played with the likes of Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller, and Anderson's godfather was the late Waymon Tisdale, who died last year of cancer at 45.
Anderson can now focus on adding muscle and good weight for his first season in the Big East. Heath said he isn't sure what Anderson's ideal weight is, but he's excited to find out.
"Now he's, like, 245-ish," Heath said. "Can he still be effective down low, banging and bruising against other guys? Does he need more weight and strength? I know he's looked good out there on the court."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.