Chris Anderson selected Occidental College for the personal attention he could receive while earning his degree.
"At most universities, there are 500 people in a class and you never see the professor," said Anderson, a graduate of Los Alamitos High School. "I didn't want to get lost in the shuffle."
But there was one another advantage Occidental could offer: Anderson could continue playing basketball.
Anderson, a 6-foot 9-inch sophomore center, came to the Division III college for an education, but he's learning as much on the basketball court as he is in the classroom.
This season, his first on the varsity, Anderson has scored more points than he did in three years in high school on the sophomore, junior varsity and varsity teams.
His average of 11.4 points per game is still not as important as a chemistry test score (he is leaning toward a career in sports medicine), but for the first time, he is considering basketball as a career.
"I could go the rest of my life and not play basketball, but I'm starting to think of it as more than just a game," he said. "I might try to play in Europe after college."
These are pretty lofty sights for someone who was just a so-so player on the junior varsity last season.
"Chris didn't have the type of year (last season) where we got the feeling he was a guy to build a team around," Bill Westphal, the varsity coach, said.
But by the start of this season, the personal attention Anderson and Occidental's other big man, freshman center John Crawley, were getting from assistant coach Cleve Buckner began to pay off.
In December, Occidental beat a Texas Wesleyan team led by Dave McCaskill, a talented 6-8 center.
"That guy (McCaskill) was great. He would block shots and his elbow would be even with the rim," Westphal said.
Still, Anderson outplayed McCaskill, finishing with 25 points and 12 rebounds in an 82-80 victory.
"I played better than I thought I was capable of," Anderson said. "It gave me the confidence I needed."
Westphal said, "We now feel that Chris may be a player we can build things around."
Looking back, Anderson is amazed at the progress he has made since he first went out for the sophomore team at Los Alamitos.
"There were times when I felt like an idiot," he said.
According to Los Alamitos coaches, that assessment is not an exaggeration.
"After the first day he practiced with the sophomore team, the coach (Steve Canin) called me and said that Chris was a long way from being a factor in our program," Steve Brooks, the varsity coach, said.
Anderson first played basketball in seventh grade, but he didn't enjoy it. Being less experienced than the other players, he felt like a liability on the court and decided not to play the next year.
Anderson didn't take up the sport again until his sophomore year, when he had grown to 6-2. Even then, he needed some gentle prodding from Dale Ferber, a counselor at Los Alamitos.
"Chris had sprouted up after his freshman year and brought up the subject of basketball," said Ferber, who coached basketball at Los Altos and Workman high schools. "My advice to any kid that shows even a little interest in an activity is to try it so you won't second-guess yourself later in life."
Anderson played little as a sophomore and junior, usually in games that had long been decided. Still, he kept working at it, trying to improve his agility and speed.
By his senior year, Anderson had progressed to a point where he felt he had a shot as the starting center, mostly because, at 6-7, he was the only player on the team big enough to play the position.
But before the school year began, Mo Warner, a 6-6 junior, transferred back to Los Alamitos and immediately stepped in as the starting center. Still, toward the end of the season, Anderson began getting more playing time. He even started two games.
Against Kennedy late in the season, he had 13 points, including the game-winning basket, and 14 rebounds. Afterward, Brooks started showing more confidence in him.
"He made great strides in three years," Brooks said. "He just never got discouraged. By the end of the year, you could tell he was more comfortable on the court."
When the season ended, Anderson figured that his basketball career was over. He started looking at colleges, applying to UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego.
With a 3.8 grade-point average, he was qualified for all of them.
"I really liked the (Occidental) campus, even before the basketball program was interested in me," Anderson said.
Occidental, then coached by Mike Zinn, became interested after talking with Brooks.
"Coach Brooks said they wanted to see a tape of me playing," Anderson said. "So I sent them the Kennedy tape."
Anderson was accepted to Occidental and Irvine, but the decision wasn't close. He wanted to continue playing.
"I think getting involved in basketball at a later age was better for me," he said. "A lot of kids start young and then burn out. I'm just getting into it."
And the future?
"Right now, I can't imagine anything better than playing basketball and seeing the world."