When Justin Anderson learned LeBron James was opening I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, it served as further motivation for the Westmoreland County native to continue giving back to the Fredericksburg area.
Anderson doesn’t possess the worldwide clout of James, but the Atlanta Hawks swingman believes he can do his part to improve the outlook of youth in his hometown and the surrounding areas.
For the past three years, Anderson has held a basketball camp in the region.
The three-day Elite 50 camp for high school prospects started Thursday and wraps up Saturday with an exhibition game at Riverbend High School at 5 p.m.
Training for younger players will be held on Saturday morning at the Massad Family YMCA in Stafford County.
“LeBron was one of my favorite players growing up, so I watched the process,” Anderson said. “I watched how he handled everything. He’s given me the thoughts and ideas of how to give back to your community. For me, right now, it’s through my basketball camp. As I grow and I continue to evolve, I’ll continue to do more things.”
Anderson is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. He was traded to the Hawks from the Philadelphia 76ers last month.
It’s his third team in four years. Anderson was selected in the first round (21st overall) by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
That was after a three-year career at Virginia that culminated with a breakout junior campaign that propelled him into the draft. Anderson’s personal trainer from Charlottesville assisted with the camp.
Former Massaponax and Christopher Newport standout guard Aaron McFarland, who is serving as an instructor, said it’s inspiring for a professional to return to the area to share the tools that helped them achieve success.
“It seems like a lot of the [campers] are just shell-shocked and are really open to learn,” McFarland said. “It’s good because a lot of guys here don’t have somebody they can look up to that can mentor them. Guys like myself and [Colonial Forge graduate] Marco Haskins, we played Division II or III ball so that doesn’t pop out. But to have somebody that’s played such high major ball and is in the NBA now to come back and give their time and effort, that means a lot to these guys.”
Despite his success and three-year tenure in the NBA, Anderson is still finding himself as a professional. He appeared in 38 games last season and averaged 6.2 points per game in 13.7 minutes per contest. He’s yet to rediscover the shooting touch that allowed him to connect on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts his junior season at Virginia.
After the 76ers traded for swingman Zhaire Smith on draft night, it was apparent Anderson wasn’t in their long-term plans.
Anderson knows he’s entering a pivotal season with the Hawks. While he appeared in 12 playoff games as a member of the Mavericks and 76ers, Atlanta is entering a rebuilding phase. Anderson hopes to bring his playoff experience to the club.
But the situation with the Hawks is similar to what Anderson’s former U.Va. teammate, Joe Harris, faced last season with the Brooklyn Nets. Harris took advantage of the available playing time on a rebuilding squad and earned a two-year, $16 million contract with the Nets in July.
“I’m very excited,” Anderson said of his opportunity with the Hawks. “Obviously in Philly that’s a fun environment brewing. It’s a young environment that’s ready to win now. When I got traded to the Atlanta Hawks under [coach] Lloyd Pierce and that staff, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity. I was very excited to hear from the front office and the coaching staff. I can’t wait to get there and continue to work.”
Anderson expects to be ready for the start of the season after having surgery earlier this summer to repair a stress fracture in his leg. He endured shin splints from last November through the end of the season and that caused him to miss action.
He limped around a bit on Thursday, but his instructors were more than capable of handling the youth as they stressed the importance of conditioning. Courtland rising senior post player Cameryn McDonald had a head start. McDonald has dropped 18 pounds and added muscle since the end of last season.
“I find this really exciting,” McDonald said of the camp. “I appreciate that he came down to hold this camp again. I wasn’t able to make it last year because I had a tournament. I’m glad I made it this year and it’s real fun.”
That’s Anderson’s goal. He said he wants to make an impact in the region he grew up in. He noted how difficult it was for his father, Edward Anderson Sr., to drive him to the Hampton Roads area for practices with his Boo Williams AAU team and to Rockville, Md., to attend former basketball powerhouse Montrose Christian games during his high school years.
“This is everything to me,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to create an environment for the kids that come from this area where they don’t have to necessarily uproot and leave. They can continue to have something here in the area that pushes them, that challenges them and gives them the opportunity to grow and get better.”