ATLANTA - Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech's freshman court engineer cum laude, shoots and passes like a college veteran. Recruited (better to say courted passionately) from the rough-and-tumble world of New York City high school basketball, Anderson has been a college hit. He is so precise, so talented, it can be difficult to remember that Kenny Anderson, for all his on-court sagacity, is just a kid.
"Sometimes, we do forget that he's just a freshman because he's a great young man," said Tech assistant coach Bruce Dalrymple, "and such a great player. But I know that he's just 19. In the middle of the day, he gets tired and usually needs to take naps."
Like many other freshmen, Anderson is adjusting to campus life at Tech and being away from home, away from his mother Joan, who reared him in a single-parent household.
Anderson has a poster-size picture of her on the wall of his dormitory room. And his living quarters - he shares a suite with teammate Dennis Scott - show freshman tendencies.
"My side of the room is sloppy," Anderson said. "Dennis is a neat-freak. It's crazy."
Take away the basketball that Anderson handles so well on ACC courts, hand him some books and put him on campus somewhere besides the Alexander Memorial Coliseum court, and he looks like a scrawny 6-foot-2, 19-year-old, not the Yellow Jackets' starting point guard.
"I'm not one who really gets into being in the spotlight," Anderson said recently, "so if people don't recognize me on campus, that's all right. I just do my job the recognition will come."
So far this season, Anderson is averaging 20.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and leads the team in assists (8.7 per game). The Yellow Jackets, ranked No.13 in the latest AP poll, are 16-4.
In only his eighth game in the college ranks, Anderson registered a triple-double against Pittsburgh: 32 points, 12 rebounds and 18 assists. He is one of only 10 players in ACC history to achieve a triple-double. Should Anderson earn another, he will become the only player to have done it twice.
In a recent telecast, NBC analyst Al McGuire called Anderson "Mandrake the Magician." Dick Vitale, an analyst for ABC and ESPN, also is high on Anderson. "He has great court sense," Vitale said.
Anderson, meanwhile, has kept compliments on his playing ability in perspective by saying he "won't declare hardship" for the National Basketball Association draft in June.
"It's a thought to be the first in my family to earn a college degree," said Anderson, who is majoring in textiles management, "but I wasn't born with a gold spoon in my mouth. If the NBA comes, I'd listen, but I don't think I would go this year."
The people paid to keep track of such things don't think so, either.
"He's not coming out," Marty Blake said forcefully. Blake is respected as a superscout in judging college basketball talent. "Anderson is crazy to even consider the NBA at this point," Blake said. "He's good, great, but he's a point guard and he needs experience and physical maturity."
Anderson, a native of Rego Park, N.Y., and a 1989 Archbishop Molloy High School graduate, made all-New York City for four years (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dean Meminger made it three times each). While at Molloy, Anderson - a four-year starter - became the state of New York's all-time leading scorer with 2,621 points.
Last year, Anderson won the Naismith Award as the nation's top prep player. His No.12 jersey is currently being displayed for one year at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. In Anderson's eyes, his transformation into an impact freshman has a simple explanation. "I wanted to have a fast impact," he said. "If you start slow, you lose impact and you go to the tank. I didn't want that to happen to me."
Although Anderson has been impressive, Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins isn't yet ready to label him perfect. After all, Cremins has coached several outstanding backcourt players, including Dalrymple and Cleveland Cavaliers' guard Mark Price.
Cremins has also coached five of the last seven ACC Rookie of the Year selections, including Price (1983), Dalrymple ('84), Duane Ferrell ('85), Tom Hammonds ('86, now with the Washington Bullets), and Dennis Scott ('87).
"He's as good or better than those players at this stage," Cremins said, "But there are things that he needs to improve upon, such as his upper body (strength) and his defense. If he improves upon those things, he could be a very, very good basketball player."
Temple guard Mark Macon, a junior, is familiar with Anderson's current situation.
During his freshman season (1987-88), Macon led Temple to a 32-2 record and a No.1 ranking for most of the season. He also earned first-team All-America honors.
Although Macon is still a quality collegiate player (he leads Temple in scoring), he isn't quite as heralded as he once was.
"I didn't get a chance to talk to him (Anderson)," Macon said, "but I would love to talk to him, to let him know that as an impact freshman, you're put in a tough position. You're put on a pedestal, but you can easily be knocked off of it."
However, the consensus at Tech is that Anderson's headed for bigger things.
"Kenny's such a good person," Dalrymple said, "that he has too many people who care about him that won't allow him to fail. He's got lots of positive images. Besides that, he's so competitive that he won't let it happen."
- Information from USA Today was used in this report.