Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski tried repeatedly last week to lower expectations for the matchup between his freshman point guard, Bobby Hurley, and Georgia Tech's astonishing newcomer, Kenny Anderson, but even Krzyzewski didn't sound as if he truly believed what he was saying. Certainly nobody else did. Anderson and Hurley honed their games 15 miles apart on opposite sides of the Hudson—Anderson in New York City; Hurley in Jersey City, N.J.—and they may be the two best playmaking guards ever to come into the same conference at the same time, the perfect point and counterpoint. Now, if Anderson can resist the temptation to turn pro before the ACC tournament and the baby-faced Hurley can avoid being spirited off to a cherub breeding farm, theirs should be one of the great rivalries of the 1990s. Yet Krzyzewski persisted. "You don't have freshman battles in this league," he said. "They skirmish, the veterans battle."
But what a skirmish. Anderson was the most-sought-after high school player in the country last year, when he was at Archbishop Molloy High in Queens, and he came into last Thursday's game in Atlanta fourth in the conference in scoring, first in assists and third in steals. Not surprisingly, after buzzing through his first 10 college games by leading the Yellow Jackets to an unblemished record and the No. 9 ranking in the AP poll, Anderson was weighing his prospects in the NBA. "I didn't come from an estate," he said. "I wasn't born with a gold spoon in my mouth. If they offer me a lot of money, I definitely would jump on it.
If Hurley is not quite the player Anderson is, he'll certainly do. Hurley, who played for his father, Bob, at St. Anthony's High—the unofficial national high school champion in 1988-89—began hearing from recruiters when he was only a sophomore. Because his father was well known among college coaches, the recruiting process never got out of hand. Two years later, Hurley, salutatorian of his class, narrowed his choices to Syracuse, Seton Hall, Villanova, Duke and Georgia Tech. He chose Duke after visiting the campus, announced his decision to play for the Blue Devils in September 1988 and was installed as their floor leader about the time he hit puberty.
Hurley's belly-button defense in the first half was good enough to force Anderson, a 61% shooter coming into the game, into a 2-for-8 horror show. Hurley also had eight of his 11 assists before intermission, as Duke, the nation's No. 10-ranked team, opened a 13-point lead that quieted a frenzied sellout crowd at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Tech forward Dennis Scott, who watches admiringly as jump shots leave his hand, the way Reggie Jackson used to watch his home runs, kept the Yellow Jackets close with 21 points in the first half. After last Saturday's 92-85 Tech victory over North Carolina State, Scott led the ACC in scoring with a 29.7 average. It helped that he had shed 20 pounds during the off-season, though none of it from his ego.
In the second half the six-foot, 150-pound Hurley began to suffer leg cramps, and Anderson seized the advantage with a flurry of seven points in 90 seconds to put Tech in front by nine points with 10 minutes remaining. "It's hard to stop a guy like him with his penetration," said the unburly Hurley. "He's very quick off the dribble." Former Soviet coach Alexander Gomelsky was equally impressed with Anderson's ball handling after Anderson blew past the Soviets like a runaway reform movement in a game earlier this season. "He is fantastic," Gomelsky said after the game. "I don't know, maybe he doesn't sleep all night, practicing his dribbling."
Yet Hurley never backed down. He constantly worked the ball to forward Christian Laettner (23 points) in the low post and dished outside to guard Phil Henderson (26 points), a combination that carried Duke to a thrilling 96-91 victory. Hurley finished with 15 points, 11 assists and six turnovers in 36 minutes.
Anderson, despite missing 13 of his 20 shots from the floor, finished with an equally impressive 19 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and only three turnovers. He was not happy, however, about Tech's squandering a 10-point lead while he was on the floor and the game was there to be won. "I should be able to get the ball in the right people's hands in the right spots," he said. "I'm known as a scorer, but I also pass the ball extremely well. At certain times, I can be so deceiving, it's hard to tell what I'll do. "Still, Anderson knows that he would rather pass than shoot. "If the point guard is hogging the ball up,' he says, "team chemistry is going to go whack."
As Hurley found out, it is almost impossible to guard someone who is both lefthanded and as quick as Anderson. "That's extremely to my advantage," Anderson says. He learned to press that advantage from the time he first appeared on the playgrounds in the Rego Park section of Queens. "They used to call me Clyde in the CYO league," he says, referring to the legendary New York Knicks guard Walt Frazier. "I didn't know who that was. I never really watched pro ball or college basketball, I just played. If somebody asked me what I thought about Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, I would say they were great, but I was just going along. I didn't know who they were."
The only basketball player Anderson ever cared about was his uncle, James McLaughlin, who took him to the neighborhood playgrounds from the time Kenny was old enough to walk and taught him how to play. McLaughlin had been a star at Jamaica High School in Queens—like his nephew, he was a lefty—but he died of heart disease in 1977. He was only 25 years old. "He was like the heart of the family," says Anderson, who was six when McLaughlin died. "He was real lovable."
Three years later Anderson's father, Anthony Lawless, left home and never came back, a subject Anderson refuses to discuss. This season Anderson is wearing the inscription BR. T on his game shoes, a memorial to Brother Terence Jones, Anderson's math teacher and mentor at Archbishop Molloy, who died during Anderson's senior year after suffering a stroke. "I've had a rough life," Anderson says. "It's been rough for me not having a father around. I was hurting, but I didn't want my mother to see I was hurting. I could always throw on a real good mask so people wouldn't know I was down."
Joan Anderson worked in grocery stores and department stores and at whatever odd jobs she could find to support her four children. Kenny was the youngest by eight years, so it was natural that she doted on him. "Me and my mother are like friends." Anderson says. "She broke her back for us, working three different jobs and trying to raise four kids alone. She had that fighting spirit, and I think it rubbed off on me."
At the end of Anderson's freshman season at Molloy, he was named MVP of the state Catholic school tournament for leading the Stanners to the title. By then he was being recruited by hundreds of colleges, and the only lingering doubt was whether he was too wispy to become a star (he's 6'2", 166 pounds). "I was a little, tiny guy," Anderson explains, "but I'm not 'small.' And even though I'm not saying I'm Hercules, a lot of my strength is deceiving because it's in my heart." As a senior, Anderson unchained his heart for 32 points a game.
The best thing that can be said about the recruiting war that was waged over Anderson was that it was completely legal under NCAA rules. That is also the worst thing that could be said about it, for, unlike Hurley's recruitment, the chase for Anderson was a shameful example of high-pressure, lowlife toadying and the sort of old-boy-net-work cronyism that determines the fates of a depressing number of teenage athletes every year. Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, who grew up in the Bronx, saw Anderson play at least 40 times before he even talked to Anderson. "Every time Kenny played, we were there," Cremins says proudly. "I think Kenny liked that."
North Carolina, Syracuse and Georgetown were all believed to have a stronger hold on Anderson's affections than the Yellow Jackets, so Cremins employed a scorched-earth strategy, ingratiating himself with Anderson's mother, his high school coach, even the kid who rolled out the balls at Molloy's practices. The year before Anderson announced his decision to attend Tech, Cremins decided he liked the work of Molloy student manager Giuseppe Liantonio so much he put him on full scholarship at Georgia Tech. Liantonio provided the Tech coaching staff with regular updates on what Anderson was thinking and saying back in Queens.
North Carolina was also getting regular reports. Its link was Vincent Smith, the older brother of former Tar Heel star Kenny. Vincent became a volunteer assistant to Molloy coach Jack Curran (a close personal friend Of North Carolina coach Dean Smith) when Anderson enrolled at the school. "Vincent took me under his wing," Anderson says.
Georgetown had been Anderson's first choice, but when coach John Thompson failed to pay a personal visit to Anderson's home, Anderson ruled out the Hoyas. Cremins won Anderson over by promising the one thing most other coaches refuse to negotiate—a starting position. "Coach Cremins is going to let me run the team," Anderson said while he was still a high school senior. Cremins insists that he has never guaranteed a player a starting job, but it is well known that the high profile of his freshmen—five ACC rookies of the year in eight seasons—has helped recruiting. "Bobby sells opportunities," says Kevin Cantwell, Cremins's associate head coach.
Joan Anderson certainly liked Cremins better than she liked Dean Smith. "All I heard him talk about was what Kenny could do for Carolina," she says. "I didn't hear anything about what Carolina could do for Kenny." She also wasn't all that hot about Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "He was too cold," she says. "His town's too cold, and he's cold."
Even after Anderson finally signed with the Yellow Jackets in November 1988, he continued to receive phone calls from people purporting to be either representatives of spurned schools or the investigative arm of the NCAA—all threatening vague reprisals. "It got nasty,"
says a member of the Tech staff.
By the day of Anderson's collegiate debut, Atlanta newspapers had already proclaimed the start of the Anderson Era. "The expectations are high, and I really worry about that," Cremins said. "We don't want the kid's head to explode. "So Anderson responded with 28 points against Georgia State in his debut, and then destroyed Pittsburgh over the course of two games by averaging 26 points, 10 rebounds and just under 12 assists.
In the wake of all the buildup, Cremins has tried to keep Anderson humble by "de-recruiting" him, which is a lot like the deprogramming that former religious cultists are put through. "Al McGuire used to say, 'You've got to hug them when you recruit them and whip them when you get them,' " Cremins says.
It is little wonder then that Anderson keeps mostly to himself. "I'm a very mellow type of kid," he says. "I take my college like a job. It's money really, it's just not cash. It's not tangible, but it's there. You really do have to come through, because they pick and choose who they give those scholarships to."
So far, Anderson and Hurley are pick and choose, and all that lies ahead is great promise.