SEATTLE — Mike Anderson is a rugged, 6-foot-4 shooting guard who rebounds like a forward, a quiet guy who rarely displays much public emotion.
Until he’s asked about his not-quite-1-year-old daughter, who will see her father play basketball on Saturday for the first time. And then he can’t stop giggling.
Anderson hasn’t seen Mya, who turns 1 on Monday, since Christmas break, and the thought of her trip to Seattle this weekend — along with Anderson’s mother, who also lives in Anderson’s hometown of Hartford, Connecticut — is nearly overwhelming.
So, here come the giggles. He can’t help it.
“I can’t really describe the feeling,” an emotional Anderson said after Friday’s practice. “It’s a crazy feeling, though, having her out here for my last home game. That should be good.”
Since Mya was born, Anderson said he’s only seen her a handful of times — for a week after her birth, at Christmas, and a couple of times during the summer. So he makes frequent FaceTime calls back home to Mya and his girlfriend, Bria. Mya is all over Anderson’s Instagram page, and he can’t talk about her without choking up a bit.
“When I first saw her, I kind of turned away, because it was just too good to be true,” Anderson said, laughing. “Then when I held her, I teared up a little bit.”
He’s glad she’ll be there to help celebrate the last home game of his collegiate career, a five-year journey that took him to four colleges. He’ll play his final game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday against 13th-ranked Utah (1:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network). And with senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. likely still out with a calf strain, Anderson will be the only senior to take the floor (though Kemp will still be honored during the pregame ceremony).
His two-season stop in Montlake has been the culmination of a lengthy voyage. He starred at Weaver High in Hartford, but his SAT score wasn’t high enough to qualify for college ball. So Anderson enrolled at Taag Academy, a prep school in Tampa, Florida, to try to get his scores up, “but that didn’t work out.”
It was then on to Iowa Western Community College for a semester, though he eventually redshirted the 2010-11 season. Then he transferred to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Illinois, for the 2011-12 season before deciding “there were some things there that I felt like weren’t good for me,” so as a third-year sophomore he trekked to rural Missouri to try to prove himself at Moberly Area Community College.
Playing under coach Pat Smith, with whom he developed a quick bond, Anderson flourished, averaging 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. He scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a 77-70 loss in the Regional 16 championship game.
His length and versatility caught the eye of UW coach Lorenzo Romar, whose scholarship offer led a pack of smaller Division 1 programs. Anderson was primarily recruited to UW by former Huskies assistant Jim Shaw, with whom he said he also formed a strong relationship.
“I knew about the success Coach Romar had with Washington. That’s really one of the reasons why I came here,” Anderson said. “Me and Coach Romar just had a good connection.”
Anderson figured he’d come to UW and play a true guard position, and maybe even help shoulder a significant portion of the team’s scoring load if C.J. Wilcox chose to declare for the 2013 NBA draft.
Instead, Wilcox returned to school for his senior season. And after starting forward Jernard Jarreau tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener, and 6-foot-7 forward Desmond Simmons missed the first couple of weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery, Anderson moved into the starting lineup — as a fourth guard. Which meant that many times, he was relied upon to defend opposing power forwards.
As a hustle player who prides himself on his toughness, Anderson refused to balk at those assignments. Asked last season if it wore on him, Anderson laughed and replied: “I played against jail-ball players before, so it doesn’t really matter.”
He finished his junior year with per-game averages of 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25.5 minutes. He started 18 games. This year, Anderson’s averages increased to 8.1 points and a team-leading 6.1 rebounds, and as the only UW player to start every game, he’s played an average 31.7 minutes. He never developed into the scorer he was as a JUCO player — partially because he deferred so often to his teammates — but his hard-nosed style of play and relentless effort earned him an admirable reputation with the Huskies coaching staff.
In Anderson’s 60 games here, Romar said he has provided “just a lot of grit. A lot of selflessness. Last year he played out of position pretty much the entire year, and just did it, no questions asked. Just did it.”
Said Anderson: “It wasn’t hard; it was just what the team needed, so I was just trying to provide that for the team. When I look back on it, I just think I could have done way more on offense than what I’ve done the past two years.”
Romar is pushing him to finish his degree in American ethnic studies, Anderson said, before he pursues a professional basketball career, “most likely overseas.”
It’s been a trying two seasons for the Huskies, but Anderson chooses to reflect positively.
Asked how he’ll view his years at UW, he said he’ll remember “us fighting through what we’ve been through here because of our injuries and key losses to the team. Usually, stuff like this doesn’t really happen to a team two years in a row. We just kept fighting. I just appreciate the times of everyone pulling together and fighting.”
No. 13 Utah (23-6, 13-4 in Pac-12) at Washington (15-14, 4-13 in Pac-12)
1:30 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 1000 AM/97.7 FM
All-time series: Utah leads the series 9-8.
Statistics for 2014-15 unless otherwise noted
Player Pos Ht PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
Brandon Taylor G 5-10 10.4 2.6 3.4 45.0 87.5
Delon Wright G 6-5 14.4 4.7 5.4 52.1 83.3
Jordan Loveridge F 6-6 10.2 3.7 0.6 42.1 86.0
Chris Reyes F 6-7 4.8 4.1 0.5 48.2 52.6
Jakob Poeltl F 7-0 8.2 7.0 0.6 42.1 86.0
Player Pos Ht PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
Nigel Williams-Goss G 6-3 15.1 4.6 6.0 43.4 76.7
Andrew Andrews G 6-2 14.7 4.4 2.2 39.8 81.8
Mike Anderson G 6-4 8.1 6.1 2.4 44.0 69.0
Jernard Jarreau F 6-10 4.7 4.7 1.1 40.0 60.0
Gilles Dierickx C 7-0 0.8 1.2 0.3 29.4 0.0
Scouting report: Look out for 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl, who could become the next tall guy to exploit the Huskies’ lack of frontcourt depth. Poeltl is a skilled post player and a tough cover for anybody, but with Shawn Kemp Jr. again likely out with a calf strain, the Huskies will again only have two available players taller than 6-foot-7. The Utes have plenty of weapons – Delon Wright, Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge could all wear UW out on the perimeter – but Poeltl presents the most difficult challenge, given UW’s undermanned interior. ... Utah won the first meeting between these teams, 77-56, in Salt Lake City on Jan. 25. That was Robert Upshaw’s final game for the Huskies. He was dismissed from the team the next day for a rules violation, and the Huskies have lost nine of their 10 games since.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple