For 42 years, Charlie Anderson has gone to a gym every fall, rolled out a dozen or so basketballs and put together a team. The kids have come in all shapes and sizes--small, medium and large, some talented, some not so talented.
The one constant has been winning.
"I've won over 850 games," Anderson said from his office at tiny Aquinas College, a map-dot school in Nashville, Tenn., not to be confused with the larger Aquinas in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I've been around a long time."
He has always been enthusiastic about his task, teaching his kids the fundamentals of the game, everything from the pick-and-roll to the give-and-go. He showed them how to play a zone defense and how to play man-to-man. And he delighted when they got it and began to blossom as players and people.
"The biggest enjoyment I get is watching kids develop," he said. "We've taken some kids that had good grades academically and developed their game."
Anderson has always operated in a low-profile environment, far removed from the spotlight enjoyed by Krzyzewski and Izzo, Tarkanian and Olson. He coached high school basketball for 22 years and then moved for the next 20 to Aquinas, where he is surrounded by athletic heavyweights like Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Memphis, even Middle Tennessee.
Aquinas won the National Junior College Athletic Association basketball championship in 1991 and heads into the postseason next week coming off another successful season. "We feel good about our team," he said.
And yet, there is a sense of despair around the program.
That's because one day last December, the Board of Trustees at Aquinas decided that underwriting athletics, even at the junior college level, was too pricey for the 400-student school. And that means after this season, Anderson will be in the worst possible position for a basketball lifer--he will be a coach without a team.
"It is disappointing for the whole community because this is such a community program," Anderson said. "We dress 12 players and every one of them comes from within 70 miles of our school. Two of them are from within 10 miles."
He also is proud of his program's legacy.
"We had a player who set a record I don't think will ever be broken," Anderson said.
That would be Sydney Grider, son of a former Harlem Globetrotter, who made 197 3-pointers for Aquinas in 1987-88. That's more 3s than any player has hit in one season at any other school.
Then there are the fistful of players who have moved from this modest junior college operation to Division I schools. One of them is D.J. Harrison, the leading scorer at Colorado.
Harrison remembers Anderson warmly.
"He's a great coach," he said. "He knows the game real well and he loves to work with kids. He really cares for kids. He gave me a chance to play after high school when I didn't have many offers."
Anderson also gave Harrison a chance not to play when that became necessary.
Aquinas was in a Junco tournament in Florida, preparing to meet Daytona Community College, which had 6-foot-11 Lee Scruggs, who would go on to play at Georgetown. At 6-7, Harrison was the center at Aquinas, assigned to deal with the taller Scruggs.
"I was jacking around in practice, not going hard," Harrison said. "He kicked me out. He screamed at me because I was not taking it seriously. When you're a kid, you always think you're right. I was wrong. I should have been going hard."
Harrison sulked for a while but then took out his frustration in the game, leading Aquinas to victory.
"I scored 38 points, had 18 rebounds and made all-tournament," he said. "That inspired me. It made me understand that every little practice counts."
That's the way Anderson coaches the game.
There have been letters of support from friends throughout the coaching fraternity and even some job offers for the 66-year-old Anderson, who doubles as athletic director and whose son coaches the Aquinas baseball team.
"A lot of old friends have reached out," Anderson said. "I have four or five offers. I'm going to look at it."
That sounds like a coach who wants to show up in a gym some place next fall and roll the basketballs out again.