In a star-crossed Kentucky Wildcats basketball career, Dwight Anderson was little more than a one-and-done player for Joe B. Hall in the late 1970s.
Nevertheless, the electrifying 6-foot-3 guard left a lasting imprint on UK’s regal men’s basketball history that has endured for four decades.
The Dayton, Ohio, product was found dead Saturday in his bedroom in his hometown. The cause of death is pending an autopsy. Anderson was 59.
When Hall and his ace recruiter Leonard Hamilton won a fierce recruiting battle with Michigan to bring Anderson to Lexington, they had gained for Kentucky a player unlike any it had ever had before.
At the time, it seemed UK had landed its own version of Darrell Griffith, the former Male High School star guard who would go on to lead Louisville to the 1980 NCAA title.
To put Anderson’s ability in a modern context, he was something of a John Wall 1.0, though more of a two guard than a point.
Anderson’s explosive athleticism led Cawood Ledford, the venerable Kentucky radio play-by-play announcer, to dub him “The Blur.”
In the only full season (1978-79) in which “The Blur” rocked Kentucky blue, Anderson played a starring role in three of UK’s most memorable victories ever.
A Rupp Arena miracle
In only his third UK game, Anderson was the catalyst in one of the most improbable Kentucky comebacks of all time.
With 31 seconds left in overtime, Kentucky trailed No. 5 Kansas 66-60 in Rupp Arena.
Scoreless to that point, Anderson proceeded to take over the game.
First, the freshman scored on a layup.
Anderson then forced a turnover and eventually hit two free throws to pull Kentucky within 66-64.
Next, Anderson knocked loose the ensuing Kansas inbounds pass. The ball bounced to Kentucky guard Kyle Macy, who drained a game-tying jumper with three seconds left.
Kansas then called timeout — which was a problem since the Jayhawks had already used their full allotment.
After KU was called for a technical foul, Macy rolled in the free throw to give UK a miracle 67-66 victory.
Last year, Hall told me he’s never heard a Rupp Arena crowd any louder than it was after Anderson’s steal led to Macy’s game-tying jumper.
‘A star is born’
Only four games later, a national television audience got an enticing look at Anderson’s promise.
In what was then Kentucky’s annual meeting with Notre Dame in Freedom Hall, UK was being stymied by a 2-3 zone that the No. 2 Fighting Irish were deploying.
To counter, Hall shifted Anderson to the high post in the middle of the zone and ordered the freshman to attack.
Anderson responded by taking the fight to the Irish. In only 19 minutes of playing time, Anderson scored 17 points.
He threw down a thunderous dunk in the face of Notre Dame’s Orlando Woolridge that ignited a 25-11 UK run that rallied the Cats to an 81-76 upset.
Serving as a color analyst for the NBC broadcast of the game, ex-Marquette coach Al McGuire proclaimed of Anderson “a star is born.”
A shootout for the ages
Down the stretch of his freshman season, Anderson played at a star level. He had four straight 20-plus scoring games against SEC opponents in February.
He entered the 1979 SEC Tournament having scored in double figures in 13 of UK’s final 14 regular-season games.
In the SEC tourney quarterfinals in Birmingham, Kentucky and Alabama hooked up in an epic shootout.
UK had no answer for burly Crimson Tide post player, Reggie King, who dropped 38 points on the Cats.
Kentucky’s guards, however, trumped King. With Truman Claytor (25 points on 11-for-14 shooting), Kyle Macy (22, 9-for-16) and Anderson (19, 7-for-11) leading the way, UK shot a robust 68.3% and won a 101-100 thriller.
Alas, that turned out to be Anderson’s final signature moment in a Kentucky uniform.
His freshman season (13.3 points per game, 50.7% field-goal shooting) ended in the following game. He suffered a broken wrist in the first moments of what became a Kentucky upset of LSU in the SEC tourney semifinals.
Before Anderson’s sophomore year, UK added a massive influx of talent. Center Sam Bowie, forward Derrick Hord and point guard Dirk Minniefield headlined a No. 1-ranked Kentucky recruiting haul.
For whatever reason, Anderson never seemed comfortable on that augmented roster in his second season at Kentucky. To the shock and dismay of UK fans, that year for him ended after only 11 games.
Anderson left Kentucky and, ultimately, transferred to Southern California.
The career of a player who had seemed destined for NBA stardom was ultimately sabotaged by what Anderson, as an adult, acknowledged were his battles with the illnesses of drug and alcohol addiction.
None of that should obscure, however, the one electric season Dwight Anderson gave Kentucky basketball fans nor his leading roles in three of the most memorable UK victories ever.
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