The James Anderson journey: from back-to-back EuroLeague titles to the BCL

2023-03-06T10:30:17+00:00 2023-03-07T21:16:15+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

06/Mar/23 10:30

After playing as a defensive specialist with the 2x EuroLeague champs, James Anderson is helping UCAM Murcia in the Basketball Champions League

By Cesare Milanti/

We’re used to seeing basketball players “wearing the same clothes” on the court for most of their careers. A valid point guard rarely turns into a sharpshooter, and a defensive machine seldom becomes an unstoppable force on offense. Or, at least, this doesn’t happen at 33.

A certain change of trajectory during the on-the-court life, however, can make a veteran rotation player become a different leader on another team. And after winning the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague in back-to-back fashion, that’s what James Anderson has done, moving to the Basketball Champions League with UCAM Murcia.

This process began in the summer of 2022 when his contract with the Turkish team expired and the Oklahoma State University product decided to jump into his first-ever Spanish adventure. A tough process, in his words. “Coach Sito gave us all the freedom just to be the players that we are. For me being in a role for four years with Efes and then coming to this role, I’m still trying to figure out how to angle everything, because if in Turkey I had a mainly defensive and making-shot role, now I have to do a lot more”, he said in an interview with Eurohoops.

After playing under coach Ergin Ataman off the bench in unique situations, to exploit his defensive aggressiveness and capability, Sito Alonso is asking him to step up on the other side of the court as well. “Especially at the beginning, for me, it was kind of difficult to turn that off. I got to get to the game, being aggressive scoring the ball, and trying to create for somebody like that, which I’ve done in the past. Just being in the handicap with that role in Efes and then here in Murcia it’s just been me figuring out the rhythm to do all the things, when and how to keep it on”, James Anderson added.

After making the overseas jump in 2014, joining Zalgiris Kaunas for his first European experience following some years in the NBA between San Antonio, Houston, and Philadelphia, the Junction City native established himself as a useful small forward in whichever role he was asked to play.

In Lithuania, he had important offensive duties, as the 2+1 play that brought Zalgiris Kaunas to the EuroLeague Top 16 in the 2014-15 season proves. Later on, after one year back in the US with Sacramento, he shaped himself into a versatile figure both with Darussafaka and Khimki.

Signing with Anadolu Efes in 2018, he entered what would have become a historic team, that managed to win the EuroLeague back-to-back in 2021 and 2022. And most importantly, unlike what usually happens in the Old Continent, Ergin Ataman’s roster remained almost the same during the two winning seasons.

A team that can be considered more than just a group of professional basketball players, as James Anderson describes it. “It was just a family. From the first training camp, getting to know each other, and understanding the coaching staff calls, to break the ice, we grew into a family from those first few days in the mountains where the Wi-Fi wasn’t working well, so we had no choice but to communicate. From that day on, we turned that off the court chemistry on the court. That year we did a lot of things that people weren’t expecting us to do and once we tasted that we could make it to the Final Four, everybody locked into their role and everybody wanted it more”, he said about the 2020-21 version of Anadolu Efes.

This season, Anadolu Efes can count on Will Clyburn, who played with James Anderson alongside Scottie Wilbekin and Ante Zizic in the 2016-17 season with Darussafaka and who joined the Micic-Larkin backcourt firing duo.

However, things aren’t progressing in the best possible way, as the back-to-back reigning champs are currently just on the edge of the playoff picture. “It’s a powerhouse, and it’s something that it probably takes time to figure out, just the way the all three of them play, especially if they’re playing together. It already was a force with Micic and Larkin so adding a player like Clyburn to the mix makes it even more dangerous”, James Anderson said about the newly established Anadolu Efes trio.

The 33-year-old American small forward is confident about his former team’s near future in the EuroLeague. “I feel like they just haven’t found their role yet. I do think they will make it to the playoffs, it’s just a matter of time before they start running off games. But this year is important for them to do it now because the way the rankings are it’s crazy, so they can afford to lose many more games. I think they will start to run it off more toward the end of the season”, he commented on Efes’ moment.

“As far as following, I try to follow as much as I can and I also talk to Will (Clyburn, ed), Dunston, and the other guys all the time. I communicate with them a lot just to discuss some personal stuff off the court and how everything is going. I’m still keeping it up with the guys”, the veteran player added.

As previously said, James Anderson decided to join UCAM Murcia to play in the Basketball Champions League, where the Spanish side is currently facing a tough Group L in the Round of 16 with the reigning champions of Lenovo Tenerife, a tough opponent like Surne Bilbao, and the forward’s former team Darussafaka.

He spoke about Murcia’s potential in the European competition. “We have a good group, but these next couple of games are really important for us. We can take care of the game in Dacka (07/03 at 18:00 CET), which won’t be easy. They give us a good feeling to go to the game at home against Tenerife (15/03 at 20:30 CET). With those two games, I feel like we can play a good part in us making it to the next round. Depends on what Bilbao does, but I feel like we have a great chance and a competitive roster to be there for a championship. We need to keep moving up the ladder”, Anderson said.

Other than the three Spanish clubs in Group L, there’s also Unicaja Malaga in the BCL Round of 16. Mixing them with EuroCup participants Gran Canaria and Joventut Badalona, other than the four EuroLeague Iberian teams Baskonia, Valencia, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, gives the obvious answer to the debate regarding ACB League as the most competitive in the whole of Europe.

This is the first Spanish year for James Anderson, but he already knows how things work in the ACB. “This is the best domestic league in Europe because every team gives the best. There’s not one bad team that just falls when faces a bigger team or club. Every team thinks “we don’t care who’s on another side, we’re gonna compete”. It has been fun so far. We messed up a lot of games early that we thought we had won. I got injured at the beginning, but we kept grinding. We didn’t make it to the Copa, but we aren’t in a bad position. We just have to zone in and win some away games, which we can do”, he said.

Finally, the level of the Basketball Champions League has reached its highest peak in the 2022-23 season,  as Unicaja Malaga and Hapoel Jerusalem’s victories in their respective national cups against EuroLeague powerhouses are helping to demonstrate.

James Anderson said the EuroLeague is surely above, but mainly for the number of superstars who are playing in it. “It’s just more star power. As far as basketball, I feel like BCL is high-level and competitive. I’m not sure how it matches up with the EuroCup, but as far as the EuroLeague, it’s an up-and-coming competition. I think it will be a very special thing shortly. I don’t know if it will ever surpass the EuroLeague, but it will end up being right there next to it or behind it, just because of the competition level in terms of the teams in it”, the back-to-back EuroLeague champs stated.

The James Anderson journey has brought him to play at the highest level both in the EuroLeague with Anadolu Efes and in the Basketball Champions League with UCAM Murcia, so his opinion over the level of these two leagues can’t surely be taken for granted. After lifting a trophy twice in the past two years, he will try to bring some gold to Spain as well. That’s what he has been doing.

PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League