Defense. Defense. Defense.
There's been just one word associated with the Virginia Cavaliers in recent seasons. And that word is defense.
Virginia has won 30 games in each of the past two seasons, reaching the top three in the AP poll and earning a No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Now it's looking to send another one of its own to the NBA.
Justin Anderson is planning on carrying the traditions that have transformed Virginia into an ACC power to the professional level. And whether that's playing hard-nosed defense, doing everything on the basketball court or just plain knowing how to win, Anderson's going to bring it with hopes of getting his name called by the commissioner.
“I have a track record of being a part of a program that has great tradition, and I’m all about winning," Anderson said at last month's NBA Draft Combine. "At every level I’ve won a championship. I want to try to bring that team aspect. I want to be able to be that guy that does it all. There’s a new wave of players we’re seeing that’s doing it at a high level: Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kawhai Leonard. I like to compare myself to Danny Green. It’s a new wave of those guys who can guard multiple positions but also knock down open jumpers and get better at the offensive game as their years go on in the NBA.”
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Anderson's numbers don't leap off the page at you. He only played in 26 games last season due to an injury. He only averaged 12.2 points per game, just four rebounds a game. But he was part of a team that routinely shut opponents down night after night. The Cavaliers allowed an average of just 51.5 points per game, the best mark in the country. They were regularly made fun of for their lack of offense — their 65.3 points per game ranked 225th in the land — but make no mistake, even with low scoring outputs they were dominating the competition. Virginia lost just four times all season, twice to Final Four bound teams in Duke and Michigan State. The other two defeats came against top-20 opponents Louisville and North Carolina.
Defense is the star of the show for Tony Bennett's Virginia team. And he's drilled it into his players. That's surely one thing that Anderson will bring with him to the professional level.
“If I had the time I could probably get you all the details," Anderson said when asked what makes a great defense. "Simply put, it’d just be discipline and help, unselfish play. Unselfish in a sense of, ‘Are you going to be unselfish enough to work hard for your teammates to try to make the defense efficient, special, different?’ That makes it hard for teams on a daily basis. It’s tough to explain the principles in a short amount of time.”
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And Anderson was right in the thick of that. In an NBA that's always been dominated by the superstar, there's something to be said for the teams. The Spurs turned team basketball into a dynasty, something that at least to some was cool again. No wonder, then, Anderson mentioned Leonard and Green, a pair of Spurs, on his list of players he admires.
Sixty wins in two seasons? Surely an NBA team will find something to like about that.
“I think first and foremost it’s about being a great teammate. To me it’s no coincidence that the same teams are playing at the same time of year every single season," Anderson said. "I think it goes more than talent. This league is full of talent, and I think it’s the little fine details that I think that I can bring. I’ve got the discipline from Montrose Christian (High School). I understood better the discipline under coach Tony Bennett and discipline under coach Boo Williams in AAU. I had three great coaches, and hopefully I can bring that aspect.”
Being a team guy and defensively oriented doesn't mean, though, that Anderson has no skills. He's projected to be a first-round pick. He was talked about as one of the top players in the ACC last season. He can shoot the ball well, and he touted his improved 3-point shooting at the Combine, too.
But defense, as they say, wins championships. And an NBA team looking to win is likely going to be adding Anderson because of it.
“I’m both a 2 and a 3, but I think defensively is where my value will come when it comes to position because I think I can guard the point guard through the 4 guy," he said. "I can use my strength in the low post maybe, or I could also use my length, my quickness, my athleticism on a smaller guard. I think defensively, that’s my position.”