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Andy Anderson, Canisius basketball star and ABA original, dies at 74

A sportswriter once called him the "Blond Viking" after a night when he obliterated rival Niagara with a 32-point performance before a sellout crowd at Memorial Auditorium.

Andy Anderson, along with John Morrison, formed what many believe to be the best guard combination in Canisius College basketball history.

They each scored more than 1,000 career points in an era when freshmen were not eligible for varsity play and few teams played more than 22 or 23 games a season.

Andrew Emil Anderson died at age 74 in Tallahassee, Fla., on June 17. The cause was believed to be cancer.

That was more than two months ago, but only his closest friends from Maryvale High and Canisius teammates knew of his passing.

"Andy was a very private person," said Jack Hassett, Anderson's teammate at Canisius and one of his college roommates for two years.

As reserved as he was in comparison to the outgoing Morrison, Anderson attracted a lot of attention with his play.

"Andy Anderson and John Morrison formed the most dynamic backcourt combination in Canisius College history," said former Buffalo mayor Tony Masiello, who played with the two.

Actually, Anderson, who was only 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, was listed as a forward in many box scores. Usually, senior Bart Carr or Warren Plant played in the backcourt with Morrison.

"Andy could do it all. Run, jump, shoot and pass," said Masiello, who was a sophomore forward for Canisius when Anderson was lighting up opponents for an average of 21.6 points per game as a senior in the 1966-67 season.

Morrison had averaged 24.9 points the season before, but Anderson rose to the forefront in '66-67.

Anderson opened his senior season with a 41-point performance against Murray State in the Aud, a sample of what was to come.

After winning the Queen City Tournament with victories over Seton Hall and Fairfield, Anderson and the Griffs soon shocked the college basketball world. Anderson scored 32 points in a 79-73 upset against Providence College and All-American Jimmy Walker in overtime at the Aud.

Walker, the father of Michigan Fab Five player Jalen Rose, scored 44 points in the loss. Walker averaged 30.4 points that season for the Friars, who were the Holiday Festival champions at Madison Square Garden and lost in the NIT to Marquette, the eventual runner-up to Walt Frazier and Southern Illinois.

"One of the greatest and most exciting wins in Canisius history," said Masiello, who contributed seven points to the win against Providence.

Guard Terry Connors, now a prominent Buffalo attorney, scored the go-ahead basket in overtime. They were the sophomore's only points of the game.

Anderson was far from through with his heroics. He scored 32 points in a 90-71 win against Loyola of Maryland.

Two weeks later, Anderson scored what was then a Canisius single-game record 46 points in a 93-75 victory against La Salle at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Not only did his total equal the single-game record for the historic old "Mad House on 33rd Street," it erased the record of 43 points by a visiting player. The previous mark was set by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson of Cincinnati against Saint Joseph's as a sophomore in 1958. Anderson's record was eclipsed by Niagara's Calvin Murphy with 52 points against La Salle in December of the next season.

Anderson made 18 of 27 field goal attempts and 10 of 12 free throws in his record-shattering performance. He actually was 11 of 12 at the line, but one of the made free throws was erased when a teammate stepped into the lane too soon. In addition, he led Canisius with 14 rebounds.

Less than a week later, Canisius upset No. 8 Syracuse in the Aud. The Orange were led by guard George Hicker of Franklinville, who was an All-Western New York first-team selection with Anderson in 1963.

Anderson's last college game was against Niagara in the Aud. The Canisius-Niagara series was significant that season because it was the first time the schools had met after a feud over money that lasted 10 years. The last time Canisius and Niagara had faced each other was on March 2, 1957. The doubleheader program at the Aud never recovered from the 10-year war.

Anderson scored 15 of the first 19 Canisius points in the 79-74 win over Niagara that ended his college career.

"The Blond Viking who looks as if he should be acting in an Ingmar Bergman movie or positing for a 'Visit Stockholm' poster," is how Larry Felser, the late Buffalo News columnist and sports editor, described Anderson after that game. Felser called Anderson the most stoic player at Canisius since Leroy Chollet, the Cajun kid from New Orleans who starred for the Griffs in the late 1940s.

After the 1967 season, Anderson and Morrison were drafted by NBA teams. Morrison was selected in the sixth round, 61st overall, by the Atlanta Hawks. Anderson was an eighth-round selection, 88th overall by the Boston Celtics. That was only the second of two seasons in a stretch of 13 in the Bill Russell Era with the Celtics that Boston was not coming off an NBA championship season.

Instead of the NBA, both Canisius stars ended up as originals in the new American Basketball Association. Morrison signed with the Denver Rockets and played only nine games before he was cut. He later became head coach at Canisius, succeeding Bob MacKinnon in 1972.

Anderson signed with the Oakland Oaks, whose principal owner was singer Pat Boone. Anderson averaged 9.5 points in 77 games for the Oaks, who were coached by Bruce Hale, then the father-in-law and former college coach of star forward Rick Barry.

Alex Hannum, another Hall of Famer, took over as coach of the Oaks in 1968-69 and directed the team to the ABA championship even though Barry suffered a knee injury and played only 35 games. By then, Anderson was gone. He played only three games for Oakland that season before he was released in early December. Later the next month, he signed with the Miami Floridians and averaged 10.1 points in 33 games the rest of the season.

Anderson moved from Miami to the Los Angeles Stars in 1969. He averaged 9.6 points in 32 games for Miami and 14.3 in 49 games for the Stars. The Stars, coached by Bill Sharman, were a fourth-place team but went to the ABA finals before losing to the Indiana Pacers. Anderson averaged 8.0 points in 16 postseason games for the Stars, including a 22-point outing against the Dallas Chaparrals and 20-point game against the Pacers in the final series.

Anderson later settled down with his wife, Judy, his high school sweetheart at Maryvale, and the quiet life he preferred. He embarked on a long career as a teacher and coach in Miami Springs, Fla., before he retired and eventually moved to Tallahassee. At Miami Springs Senior High, he taught German, was an assistant basketball coach and spent more than two decades as offensive coordinator of the football team under coach Buddy Goins. His wife also retired from the Miami Springs School District.

Beside his wife of more than 50 years, Anderson is survived by two sons and four daughters.

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