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Kentucky’s Anderson able to smile after season-ending injury

January 21, 1997

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Kentucky’s Derek Anderson was lying on the trainer’s table Tuesday, his right knee propped up and packed in ice, and reading a letter from one of the team’s diehard fans.

The writer said he was upset about Anderson’s season-ending injury in last Saturday’s game against Auburn. Anderson tore the right anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee going for a loose ball.

``He says he’s depressed about it,″ Anderson said to trainer Eddie Jamiel. ``He’s not as depressed as I am.″

Anderson had a similar injury during his sophomore season at Ohio State, but it was to his left knee.

``It didn’t hurt as much as it did the last time,″ Anderson said.

The 6-foot-5 senior guard from Louisville was having a stellar season for the third-ranked Wildcats (16-2). He was the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer (18.6) and led the team in steals (2.1), 3-point shooting (40.4 percent) and free-throw shooting (80.6 percent).

``It’s one of the unfortunate things that happen in life,″ Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said. ``He’s a terrific young man. He was on the verge of being a pick in the latter part of the (NBA) lottery.

``So one dream has come to a halt, and another dream is starting to take place, and that’s to be healthy again. He’s battled it with his other knee and he can battle it again.″

Pitino said he believes Anderson will still be drafted and could play next season.

``Whoever drafts him is going to be at risk. obviously,″ he said. ``Maybe a great risk. He’s not going to be a lottery pick, but maybe getting drafted in the late first or second round, if somebody is willing to take that chance. ... Hopefully, we can have him close to where they can see his surgery was very successful at that point.″

The team didn’t find out about the extent of Anderson’s injury until after practice Monday.

``I really can’t believe it right now,″ forward Ron Mercer said. ``It just shows you that anything can happen at a given time. I know we’re going to miss him. We had a lot going on the court together.″

Guard Anthony Epps said Anderson hasn’t made a big deal out of the injury and how it would affect the team.

``He didn’t say much,″ Epps said. ``He’s still got a smile on his face.″

It was originally believed that Anderson had suffered a bruised knee after going down in the game. Later that evening, during a gymnastics event at the team’s practice facility, he was dunking the ball and clowning around.

But the knee began to swell on Monday, and a magnetic resonance imaging test at the UK hospital that day confirmed a torn ligament.

``We’ll schedule reconstructive surgery within the next week or 10 days and begin rehabilitation immediately,″ Dr. Darren Johnson said.

Anderson’s teammates have rallied behind him.

``We’re going to lose his presence,″ forward Allen Edwards said. ``He’s a team captain and leader as well as a great person all around.″

``My heart goes out to him,″ guard Wayne Turner said. ``For something like this to happen is a shame. We’re behind him 100 percent.″

Pitino said that Anderson out of the lineup is a great loss to the team.

``How would Louisville be affected without DeJuan Wheat? How would Cincinnati be without Danny Fortson, for that matter?″ he said. ``You’re stating the obvious. We don’t have anybody to step in and take the place of Derek Anderson.″

Pitino said everyone on the team will have to contribute to make up for the loss.

``We have to get 20 percent more out of nine different players,″ he said. ``That’s not going to make up for his absence, but what that will do is fill in the vacuum a little bit. That remains to be seen if we can do that.″

How do the defending national champions plan to respond?

``We have to put that behind us as a team and not make excuses because Derek isn’t here,″ forward Scott Padgett said.

``When you lose a great player like Derek, everybody needs to step it up,″ forward Jared Prickett said.

And can the Wildcats return to the Final Four?

``I think we can,″ Turner said. ``We’ve got to keep focusing and look ahead for the goals we want to accomplish. We still have time to adjust on what we need to do as a team.″

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