January 23, 2010

by Sam Miller

Talk about a perfect fit for a coach. Look no further than Clifford Anderson.

As a member of two of the greatest teams in Hawk history, the 6-foot-4 Philadelphia native demonstrated an array of skills that served as a perfect complement for Hall of Fame Coach Jack Ramsay's teams in the 1964-65 and 1965-66 seasons.

As a sophomore, Anderson averaged a shade less than 18 points per game and took advantage of early opportunities to shine. No sooner had the Hawks christened the 1964-65 season with a 31-point win against Fairfield than the first test arrived. Saint Joseph's welcomed No. 4 Davidson to The Palestra, and the future SJU Hall of Famer was not about to be shown up. Already known as a talented rebounder, Anderson scored 30 points to go along with 24 rebounds against the national challenger.

Anderson's introduction to the varsity squad ended with a 26-3 mark and No. 3 ranking in the final 1964-65 Associated Press poll. A year later, in addition to leading the Hawks to a 24-5 record, Anderson became the first Hawk to reach the 1,000 career-point milestone in his junior season. At the end of the campaign, Ramsay moved on to begin his Hall of Fame NBA coaching career.

Ramsay's departure led to the promotion of Anderson's freshman mentor, Jack McKinney, in 1966. Along with a new varsity headman came a roster makeover due to a rash of graduations. McKinney needed someone to step up and knew without question that Anderson was his man.

"He knew how much he was needed, and he gave as much of that as he could," McKinney said. "Clifford was our leader, our scorer, our rebounder, and our captain. Our first look at running our offense was directed toward our best player, and he certainly jumped at the opportunity to show everyone that he was that good."

McKinney wasn't the only coach armed with that knowledge. Villanova coach Jack Kraft said at the time, "He is one of the greatest players ever to wear the Crimson and Gray."

The thing is, Anderson came close to never donning Saint Joseph's colors. Big 5 rival Harry Litwack at Temple had Anderson all set to wear Cherry and White before Anderson met Ramsay.

"I had a chance to talk to Jack Ramsay, and I was sold on the spot," Anderson remembers. "It was just his whole demeanor. Anytime any little bit of this man's personality can rub off on you, it can't help but make you a better person."

Thanks to Ramsay and the University, Anderson says his life and the lives of his family changed forever.

As the second of Cleo E. Anderson's six children, Clifford provided hope for his entire family. Older sister Carmen persuaded him to become her dance partner at age six. Those classical ballet moves, he says, helped him develop the flourish he later showed on the basketball court.

Their mother accomplished plenty in her own right. Ms. Anderson became one of the first female African-American reporters in Philadelphia. She passed her verbal skills and a love for reading on to her children, not to mention fulfilling all the other responsibilities required to singlehandedly raise a family.

At Saint Joseph's, Clifford relied on the support of his close-knit family.

"They were probably a little vociferous in their rooting," Anderson said. "I'm sure there were instances where they made the referee's ears red when they disagreed with some of the calls."

Overall, Anderson's play left little in the hands of the officials. Going back to his dancing days, the guard/forward/do-everything player conducted the post with a distinct rhythm, his former coach recalls.

"He would go up for the rebound, and he couldn't quite get a handle on the ball," McKinney said. "Someone else was going after it on the other team, so he would just tip it away and go up immediately again to get the second one coming off. He knew that when that ball came off the boards, he was going to get it. He went after it in different ways, and he was fun, fun to watch, especially if he was on your side."

It's that tenacity that enabled Anderson to set the single-season bar that still holds today for rebounding (450) and rebounding average (15.5.)

Anderson needed little refinement by the time he and McKinney reunited for his senior season. Nonetheless Anderson made it clear to the first-year varsity leader that he would do whatever McKinney needed.

Not long afterward, Anderson assumed his role as go-to-guy. Facing arguably the nation's best player on the brightest stage, Anderson gave Providence and Jimmy Walker all they could handle. Despite the fact the Hawks had graduated most of their star power from the previous season, Anderson propelled the team into the ECAC Holiday Festival championship game at Madison Square Garden. Nicknamed "this train" by his coach, Walker's reputation preceded him. But Anderson would not back down. His team fell to the Friars 82-76, but Anderson says it was that Christmas-time contest that spurred him to elevate his all-around game.

With McKinney's blessing, Anderson took the Crimson and Gray reigns. Offense came naturally. After the MSG awakening, Anderson accelerated other facets of his game. He became a better passer and a better defender. He developed into more of a total player and pushed himself toward the NBA ranks.

All told, Anderson's No. 30 is retired; his 26.5 points per game remain the single-season scoring standard, as do his free throws made for a single season (204) and his career 1,228 rebounds and 14.6 rebounds per game. What's more, he enjoyed NBA and ABA stops in Los Angeles, Denver, Cleveland and Philadelphia from 1967-71. With the Lakers, Anderson teamed with NBA legends Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.

Today is equally rewarding for the lifetime Philadelphian. Stemming from an investment his sixth grade teacher, Mr. Davis, made in his life, Anderson takes pride in challenging the youth in the community.

Working with Philadelphia's First Judicial District, Anderson does his best to protect and to guide youths toward constructive activities like reading that he learned to enjoy.

Anderson is also thankful for his daughter, Carla, and his Saint Joseph's circle.

"Saint Joseph's has been more than just a school to me," Anderson says. "It's a family. I can't deny that it was instrumental in the direction that my whole life has taken.

"I owe a great deal to St. Joe's, and I'm proud of my accomplishments there."