A season ago you couldn't keep Elliot Anderson away from a basketball court.
He started every game for Admiral Farragut, and by his own count played at least five in which he never sat down. He was steady and dangerous, inside and out, and helped the Blue Jackets into the state playoffs.
When his Blue Jackets take on Miami Northwest Christian at 10 a.m. in the Class A state semifinals at the Lakeland Center, Anderson returns to his starting role after a season of limited playing time. Caught in the crunch of transfers Benny Clyde and Tommy and Lewis Lampley and the return of John Whitehead, Anderson again is being summoned to give the Blue Jackets a spark.
With Tommy Lampley out with a broken wrist suffered in the regional championship game Saturday, coach Mike Wells has tabbed Anderson, a senior forward, to take his place.
It will be Anderson's second trip to the final four. Only he and junior forward Vitor Boccardo were on the 2000 final four team.
Anderson thinks this team, at 32-2, is much better, though there is one similarity: New players comprise the core.
The difference from the 2000 team is that Clyde, Anderson and the Lampleys played this summer at Chiles Park and forged a comraderie.
"We all knew each other," Anderson said. "Soon as we got them, everybody was expecting the final four. We expected to win a state championship."
Though the influx of local public-school talent did not sit well with the majority of the county's coaches, Wells has made it fit into place even if finding the minutes for everyone was tricky.
Anderson was one player whose minutes took a blow. He went from regular contributor to part-time contributor to bit player. There were some highlights _ a big game in a tight win over Indian Rocks and a 7-rebound, 3-steal performance against Moore Haven last week _ but for the most part Anderson's role diminished.
He wasn't complaining.
"I knew that this year would be much different than last year," said Anderson, who is 6-foot-4 and heady around the basket. "There's no way I'll ever be as athletic as Benny. When he's in there, he offers different things than I do. The minutes thing is not really a big deal. As long as we're playing good. It's not like we're losing 15 games and I'm on the bench. I've been with Coach Wells for four years, and I trust him to make him the right decision."
It was the right decision that got Anderson to Admiral Farragut in the first place. A student at Bay Point Middle School, Anderson found himself doing so poorly his dad, Steve, and mom, Anne, enrolled him mid year at Admiral Farragut, a school Anderson said he envisioned as so horrible he'd look away when the family drove by it.
"I remember we got our report cards the day we left for Thanksgiving break, and I had a couple of Fs and a D," he said. "We drove up to South Carolina in two cars, and my dad, he was so mad I had to drive with my cousins."
Looking back, Anderson said he can't thank his parents enough. Next year he hopes to enroll at the Naval Academy.
Anderson's bond with Admiral Farragut makes the criticism the basketball team has received this year sting. He has heard it from day one this season: "You guys are cheating. You guys play an easy schedule. You guys are overrated."
"I heard all that from people who don't even play basketball; you'd hear it when you went to the movies, or the mall," Anderson said. "No one wants to give us our due."
Anderson has the chance to make people notice. While he can't match Lampley's athleticism, he is gritty enough to produce. If he does, he hopes the Blue Jackets will get some respect.
"I sure hope so," Anderson said. "That would be nice."