Driven to Succeed
As Anderson ran back to play defense, I looked directly across the court at Ohio coach Jimmy Christian, who was most definitely not cackling. Christian’s distorted face was twisted up in an expressive equation of angry + frustrated x helpless = powerless.
Yeah, Anderson’s first look of the night might have been wide open, but his remaining seven looks from distance were all contested by Bobcat hands. And it didn’t matter. On this night, nothing any defender could muster was going to deter Karvel Anderson. He was getting buckets and nobody was stopping him. Anderson was a perfect 10-10 from the floor (8-8 from deep) for a career high 28 points. His last make was a dagger 3-pointer (of course) that put Robert Morris up 80-73 and assured the Ohio fans that came to Moon Township in force that they could head for the parking lot — their Bobcats would be tasting defeat for the first time this season.
Anderson chuckled when asked if he’d ever felt anything like that on a basketball court before. Turns out it was a familiar feeling for the 6-2 shooting guard out of Elkhart, Indiana. Anderson remembers having the same anxious nervousness coursing through his body before his Senior Night at Elkhart Memorial High School.
“I just remember thinking I wanted it to be special,” said Anderson, “especially because I didn’t have anyone there to walk with me before the game.”
Senior Nights are always marked on calendars months ahead of time, celebrations for parents and players alike. It’s the night when they walk out onto the floor together and are recognized before the game. A time when tears are shed by mothers who are suddenly hit with the realization that their baby boy will soon be leaving their everyday lives. A time when fathers beam with pride at the fact that their child has contributed and persevered, completing a journey that a lot of kids never get to start because they just aren’t talented enough.
Karvel Anderson’s father was never in the picture.
She’d been incarcerated shortly before Karvel entered the ninth grade and was still, at that very moment, locked in a cell as her son watched his teammates walk onto the court with their parents.
Prior to Memorials game against Clay High that night, Anderson’s mind tried to overcome the feeling that was rising from down in his gut up into his throat. Forget mind over matter, this was more like pride over pain. It’s hard to know what folks in that gym were thinking about before the game tipped, but Karvel Anderson made sure they were thinking about him when the buzzer sounded to end it. Anderson was all over the court, his sneakers squeaking louder with every cut as he scored a school record 46 points in a decisive win, hitting 8 of his 9 attempts from 3-point range.
And believe it or not, there was a third time when Anderson was swept up in basketball nirvana, just last year at Glenn Oaks Community College.
“Last year at my juco,” recalled Anderson, “it was the first game coming off of Christmas break and it was getting really close to the point when my mom was going to be released. My mind was really scattered, thinking about it and worrying.”
Yep, you guessed it, Anderson went for 54 points in the half-empty gym.
So naturally, Anderson was a much-wanted man, with schools beating down his door trying to sign him.
“No, I had fallen really far behind in high school with my grades and that was the reason I was in junior college to begin with,” said Anderson.
The reasons Anderson had fallen behind are somewhat evident by the preceding paragraphs, and his pride at not wanting people to know what he was going through also contributed to his situation being less than ideal. You see, for a period of time, early in high school, Anderson wasn’t even willing to let anyone know he had no place to lay his head at night.
“I was homeless for a couple of months,” said Anderson, “I would sleep in McNaughton Park right near my high school.”
It was around this time that Jerel Jackson entered Anderson’s life. In fact, Jackson first met Anderson at that same park while he was playing basketball. Jackson, it turns out, had just been hired on as an assistant coach at Memorial and he slowly began to gain Anderson’s trust.
“He mentors a lot of kids,” said Anderson, “and I eventually felt comfortable enough to tell him what was really going on with my situation.”
Anderson’s sister Milikea, was staying with a friend, but Anderson was content to fend for himself, either in the park under a bridge or in cars from time to time. That all stopped when he confided in Jackson.
“I met him in 2006 probably,” Jackson remembers. “I saw a little kid that had a lot of potential so I told him I would help him if he was willing to help himself.”
After a while the two became close.
“The connection that we have,” said Jackson, pausing for a beat or two before continuing. “Karvel is like a son that I never had. We just clicked and with him staying in the park or sleeping in a car, I just made it clear that it didn’t have to happen, that if he needed anything I was going to be there for him.”
And he was, consistently.
“He’s the closest thing to a father figure I’ve ever had,” said Anderson.
Jackson worked with Anderson daily on his shot, which at the time was too flat, and also made sure the youngster had food and anything else he might need. Soon after, Anderson’s grandparents moved to Elkhart from Cassopolis, Michigan. His grandmother was very ill and the medical help she needed was much better in Elkhart. His grandfather, a man not afraid of working multiple jobs, was also able to find work in the area.
Karvel Anderson stayed with his grandparents for the rest of high school, watching his grandmother battle health issues and his grandfather work three jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Anderson also was consistently employed throughout that time, helping his family financially and helping to look after his grandmother. In fact, Anderson left his first juco, Butler Community College in Kansas, after his Grandmother fell ill and he thought she was going to die.
Last spring, following his season at Glenn Oaks, Anderson figured out that he needed to earn 18 credits during the summer to attain his dream of playing D-1 basketball. It turns out that the tape of his 54 point outing had found its way onto the desk of RMU coach Andy Toole. When Toole called Anderson, the kid with the sweet stroke was honest about how much academic work he still needed to do to qualify. So Toole and Anderson devised a schedule and plan that would allow it to happen — provided Anderson kept up his end of the bargain.
“The whole staff called me all the time,” said Anderson, “making sure I was handling my business and I appreciated the fact that they believed in me when no other D-1 school did.”
Anderson ended up qualifying and now says that grades will never be an issue again, claiming he’s conscientious about his studies to a fault. The game against Ohio was Anderson’s first start due to RMU being a player down. Anderson took the opportunity, raised up with it, and connected.
Anderson’s mother is doing well in Elkhart and looking after his 12-year-old sister Janeal.
“My mom finally got to see me play for the first time at Xavier last month,” said Anderson, who scored 17 points in a close loss, “and they’re both doing really well.”
Anderson’s sister Mylikea is in college in North Carolina.
“She’s the academic in the family, the brains,” said Anderson. “We’re very close to each other.”
Karvel Anderson is studying communications, and enjoys talking to people and writing about his experiences, which makes complete sense.
After all, he’s got one hell of a story to tell.
Ray Mernagh is a partner in NBE Sports and writer/columnist for NBE Basketball Report and the Pittsburgh Sports Report. Visit NBE at http://w3.nbebasketball.com.