FREDERICKSBURG — A five-day trip to the East African nation of Tanzania to help provide clean water with two former University of Virginia teammates put Justin Anderson’s unsettled NBA career in perspective.
Anderson was able to scratch off a “bucket list” item when he went on a safari excursion.
But it was an eye-opening experience for Anderson to witness villagers walking miles to herd cattle and goats and children as young as 5 on their own carrying large amounts of water on their head and wood on their backs.
“It was a powerful image,” Anderson said. “It was a great opportunity for me to give back and to gain perspective. I’m glad I got the opportunity to do so.”
Anderson continued serving others when he returned home to the Fredericksburg area recently and conducted his annual youth camp and Elite 50 showcase at Riverbend High School.
Anderson appeared in 48 games last season with the Atlanta Hawks, but the franchise declined to extend a qualifying offer to the 6-foot-6 shooting guard after drafting swingmen De’Andre Hunter (Virginia) and Cam Reddish (Duke) in the top 10 of last month’s NBA draft.
While taking a break between sessions at his camp last week, Anderson said he remains confident an NBA team will see value in his skill set and sign him to a contract before next season starts.
He averaged 3.7 points and 1.8 rebounds last season and was scheduled to make $3.6 million in 2019–20.
Anderson said he’ll never rule out playing overseas but the plan is to stay healthy and demonstrate he has plenty to offer at the game’s highest level.
“Last year obviously in Atlanta, I was hurt,” Anderson said. “In camp, I was coming off of [left leg] surgery and I couldn’t do as much. I missed the first three months of the season and that set me back ... So I took that year to try to get healthy, be a great teammate and help them as much as I could. I’m not feeling any pain in my leg anymore so I’m just gaining that confidence to be able to go out there, hoop, have fun and play the game with a passion and an edge. It’s been great so far.”
When Anderson hasn’t been serving others this summer, he’s been honing his skills in Atlanta with trainer Abraham Millsap and performing agility drills with Lilian Abdelmalek at Dynamic Speed Agility Training.
He’s seeking to sign with his fourth team in five years. After three years at Virginia, he was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft. The Mavericks traded him to Philadelphia early in his second season. He then was dealt from the 76ers to the Hawks last July in a three-team deal that also involved Oklahoma City.
Anderson is a free agent for the first time in his career and was eager to impart the experience to the high schoolers at his camp.
“You teach these kids that this is part of the process,” Anderson said. “This is what it takes to be a professional athlete. I’ve been through so many levels and stages of my life, and the one thing I haven’t been through is free agency. To be going through that right now is great because we have kids that are considering switching high schools and going to private schools so it’s a unique opportunity to be able to open up with them and talk to them about it.”
Anderson said he’s waiting on a few teams to figure out the “last little bit of their roster” and then he’ll “let the chips fall where they may.”
He said he’s in no position to be choosy about where he’ll play next, especially during a summer of upheaval in the NBA that saw several marquee players get traded or leave via free agency.
He was able to showcase himself a bit near the end of last season when he scored a season-high 24 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in a 136-135 overtime victory over Milwaukee on March 31.
Still, when the Hawks declined to extend the qualifying offer and no team immediately requested his services, Anderson tweeted, “slept on,” on July 6, a week after free agency began.
Anderson said the tweet wasn’t necessarily about his contractual status, but it was a universal message to others who may feel overlooked.
“Even though I feel like that or a lot of people may feel like that, it’s not about other people recognizing your worth, but what you think you’re worth,” Anderson said.
Anderson had a great thrill in April when his former school, Virginia, captured its first national championship. After the victory, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett gave credit to Anderson and others who helped establish the foundation that led to the Cavaliers’ unforgettable run.
Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris are two of those players, and Anderson accompanied them on the trip to Tanzania.
Anderson calls the Virginia trio, along with NBA veterans Anthony Tolliver and Garrett Temple, “the original starting five” of the Hoops2O foundation that raises funds and awareness for clean water initiatives in Africa.
Brogdon is the leader of the group that has raised nearly $260,000. Anderson has raised $11,182 of his $45,000 goal. Hoops2O branched off from the Waterboys foundation started by UVA alum Chris Long. Long and other NFL standouts have raised more than $1 million.
“I’m super blessed to be a part of it,” Anderson said. “What better people to do it with than guys you went to battle with in college? It’s been great.”