PROVIDENCE — The house was empty, his roommate Lonnie Jackson was gone, and Ryan Anderson was alone in his room.
He had just gotten off the phone with his mother. Everything felt like it was happening at the same time, and he was trying to process it and figure out what he should do.
Boston College had finished 8-24 in 2014, its third straight losing season. Part of the fallout was the firing of coach Steve Donahue, the man who convinced Anderson to move across the country from Lakewood, Calif., and play at the Heights. Still lingering was the grief of the death of sports information director Dick Kelley, who had been a mentor to Anderson for three years. Still looming over Anderson’s basketball future was a nagging shoulder injury which, in the opinion of two doctors, would require surgery.
“It was just like, ‘Man, everything is in a tornado right now,’ ” Anderson said.
He didn’t know where the program was headed. Both Jackson and guard Joe Rahon transferred, and Anderson had to decide whether he would take that path as well. It would mean waking up from the dream he had for himself when he came to BC in 2011.
When he got off the phone with his mother, the decision was made.
“I’ll never forget it,” Anderson said. “I got off the phone, and I started crying. I knew I was going to miss my friends. I knew I was going to miss everything out here. The people, the family out here that I got close to. I was going to miss everything that I had been going for these last couple years.”
The first step was the decision. The next was figuring out where he wanted to play.
“I was definitely nervous going through the whole process,” he said. “To turn the page, it was tough, but I don’t regret it.”
In May, two months after BC’s season ended, Anderson announced he was transferring to Arizona. It was a clean slate.
BC’s struggles may have overshadowed Anderson’s accomplishments, but Arizona knew what it was getting: a West Coast kid who had earned ACC all-freshman honors, third-team honors as a sophomore, and an honorable mention his junior year. And Anderson longed to know what it felt like to play on college basketball’s biggest stage, the NCAA Tournament.
“Ryan is such a great kid, a high-character kid, and he just thirsted for the big stage to have a chance to win,” said Wildcats assistant coach Joe Pasternack. “He didn’t have a chance to win at BC and to be able to have a chance to win, he was open to coaching, very coachable, and probably who he is as a person is what helped him the most.
“It was huge to get him, a West Coast kid that wanted to come back and play for arguably the best program on the West Coast and have that opportunity, that was huge for us.”
But it wasn’t just the start of a transition for Anderson. It was also a transformation.
He was an anchor at BC, handling the lion’s share of both the scoring and rebounding. Anderson averaged more than 11.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in each of his three seasons at Boston College.
But when he got to Tucson, he had to start from the ground up. He spent his first season watching from the sideline, sitting out per NCAA rules, and rehabbing after shoulder surgery.
“It was a humbling experience,” Anderson said. “Going from a guy that individually had a lot of success — the team didn’t have too much success, but I for the most part had some pretty good games — and going from that to basically the last guy on the totem pole.
“If a guy needed to get some shots up, I would rebound for him. If a guy needed a towel, I’d get his towel. It was a humbling experience, but I think it’s one that made me a better player and better equipped this year just being more accustomed to how things roll around here.”
Part of that process was getting his body ready. It took several months for Anderson to be healthy enough to train.
“He couldn’t even press 10 pounds with his shoulder because it was injured,” said Wildcats director of performance enhancement Chris Rounds.
Once he started training, Anderson learned that his body wasn’t as tuned as he thought. Weight training wasn’t an emphasis at BC and his body fat was high.
“He had a lot of strength at one point at Boston College because he’s a strong person, it’s just one of those things, he came off of surgery, he sat out for a while, so he had a lot of work to do,” Rounds said. “It’s kind of shocking to anybody that comes into our program. Our standards are pretty high. But they acclimate pretty quick. Most athletes want to be really good, and if you have a track record of making people better, they buy in pretty quick. So they assimilate to our culture pretty fast and Ryan did a great job with that.”
With Serbian center Dusan Ristic as his training partner, Anderson found himself hitting the weight room more than ever. Twice a week they did agility exercises in a sand pit. They did core work and pool workouts.
“We did a really great job in the weight room and we were excited about what we did, so we did some extra work,” Ristic said. “Ryan made an unbelievable improvement since he played at Boston College.”
The result, for Anderson, was a 70-pound swing. He dropped 35 pounds in fat and added 35 in muscle.
The work made Anderson’s last season his best. He scored a career-high 15.5 points per game in 2015-16 and was a terror on the glass, pulling down 10.1 rebounds a game. The last Wildcat to average 10 rebounds was Jordan Hill in 2008, the year before coach Sean Miller took over. It earned Hill all-Pac 12 first-team honors.
“Once he started putting up the numbers — we’ve never had a kid average 10 rebounds a game — being able to average a double-double in our league with as good as our league is, that shows you how good he is,” Pasternack said.
Anderson still keeps tabs on his friends and teammates at BC. Eagles big man Dennis Clifford, who came in with Anderson in 2011, will make the trip to Providence Thursday when sixth-seeded Arizona plays Wichita State in the first round.
“That was our goal all the time when we were here at BC,” Anderson said. “We didn’t know really how we were going to get it done, but we wanted to get to this moment. To get a chance to do it here my last year, kind of come back home in a way, I couldn’t write up a better script to do this whole experience.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@julianbenbow.