Listen to the starting lineup for No. 2 Connecticut as the Huskies face USF in a packed Sun Dome tonight, and you won't hear Rashad Anderson's name.
The former Lakeland Kathleen standout doesn't mind sitting on the bench, in part because a year ago he found himself lying in a hospital bed, unsure whether he would survive a dangerous staph infection in his right leg.
"It's a life-altering situation," the 6-foot-5 senior swingman said Monday. "Not knowing whether they're going to cut off your leg and you're an amputee the rest of your life, it humbles you. You start to live life to the fullest, to be thankful for the things you have."
So it's genuine when Anderson, who started 31 games in his first three years at Connecticut, says he's proud to be "the nation's leading scorer off the bench." He's second on the Huskies at 13.6 points per game despite zero starts in 27 games, but his value isn't how much he scores but how well he knows when to score.
"We have never had anyone better at making clutch shots," coach Jim Calhoun said. "He's hit more big 3s than any player I've ever had. He just has a feel about his game, where the bigger the shot, the better the chance he's going to make it."
Anderson is hitting 43.3 percent of his 3-pointers this season, but he has always been a threat from outside. When the Huskies won a national title in 2003-04, he hit 21 3-pointers in their tournament run, earning Final Four all-tournament honors.
Bulls guard Chris Capko, who played with Anderson for three seasons at Kathleen, including a state title their junior year, recalls a holiday tournament game in which Anderson hit eight 3-pointers on consecutive possessions.
"You leave him open, he's just going to go off like that," said Capko, who started his playing career at Florida, where Anderson considered going four years ago.
Connecticut won the recruiting battle with the Gators because it had offered Anderson much earlier, "the moment we saw him," Calhoun says, at a Nike camp where his shot stood out to Huskies coaches.
"When Florida finally offered me a scholarship later in the year, by that time, I was completely sold on Connecticut," Anderson said.
The only negative to playing in Connecticut was that his family and friends wouldn't get to see him play, something they'll do with pride tonight. Anderson said he expects at least 25 friends and family to drive from Lakeland, and he's grateful for a chance to play one college game close to his hometown.
A year ago, he wasn't sure when he'd play again. He'd just been named Big East player of the week in February, scoring 21 off the bench in back-to-back wins against Villanova and St. John's. Doctors found and removed an abscess in his leg, but complications forced an extended and frightening hospital stay. He made it back for the NCAA Tournament but was out of shape, totaling 11 points in four games.
If there was any doubt about his healthy return this season, he ended that just before Christmas in a 129-61 romp against Morehead State, going 7-for-7 on 3s and scoring a career-high 33. As he closes his college career, he is content to be the nation's deadliest sixth man, the kind of role player that often turns talented teams into champions.
"The illness taught him that not everything's going to be the way he'd like it to be," Calhoun said. "We've talked about nothing being promised in life, and I've seen a more mature Rashad. A lot of kids would have spit the bit if they weren't starting, but all he wants to do is play and win."