Robert Morris is by no means the Mecca of college basketball. The tiny school outside of Pittsburgh with an undergraduate enrollment of about 4,000 has to look under every rock and scope out every small, dusty high school gym to find the diamonds in the rough that bigger schools either overlook or simply do not want. Karvel Anderson is perhaps the best illustration of this. Anderson’s unique journey took him from homeless city park dweller to bona fide NBA prospect on the cusp of a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Anderson, a senior guard from Elkhart, IN, was recently named the Northeast Conference player of the year with an average of 19.6 points per game and 3-point field goal accuracy over 46 percent. The sharpshooter is coming into his own after a long road that included various junior college stops and a decision to sleep alone in a park after having a falling out with his uncle. Anderson’s uncle, Kevin Jenkins, had taken the boy in after his mother was arrested and imprisoned for cocaine trafficking. Jenkins and Anderson had a falling out, however, that led Anderson to McNoughton Park in Elkhart.
“A lot of people think that I didn’t have anywhere else [to go]. I had a place that I could have went to,” Anderson said, “… Staying at the park was something that I chose by myself.”
The NEC player of the year insists that the situation was not as bad as it sounds. He says that along with a blanket to sleep on and another to cover him at the park, he also had access to a hospital directly across the street where he could use the bathroom. Anderson says that he simply went in to school early for workouts and showering, and he kept enough clothes in his locker to get him by and. He also ate free meals at a public recreation facility located in the park.
Jerel Jackson, an assistant coach at Elkhart Memorial High School where Anderson attended took the young man under his wing. There were shooting sessions before and after practice that helped Anderson develop his sweet stroke. After the extended practices Jackson would routinely drive Anderson “home,” but the young man always instructed him to drop him off at different places.
“I tried to put two and two together, and that’s when I started talking to him,” Jackson said. “I would take him to other places, and I’m like, ‘What’s wrong here?’ And then he’ll tell me a little bit at a time.”
Eventually Jackson found out Anderson’s secret and was able to convince the rising star to seek out a safer shelter. Teammate Tyler Keck’s family became Anderson’s closest thing to a home. He lived with the family for a full year before graduating.
Needless to say, Anderson’s nickname, “The Best Kept Secret,” fits on a variety of levels. His high school stint of homelessness was accompanied with poor academic performance until the Kecks took him in. Because of this, he had to take the junior college route before realizing his Division I dream. Anderson had productive stints at Butler Community College, Lake Michigan Community College and Glen Oaks Community College, where his 54 point performance against Schoolcraft College caught the attention of Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole. Toole, at 29, is the youngest coach in Division I and knows a little himself about overcoming insurmountable odds.
Anderson’s junior year, his first with Robert Morris, found him being used as a sharp shooting sixth man where he averaged 12.5 points per game while shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc. His breakout game that year was against Ohio University on Dec. 21, 2012. In that game he went 8-8 from 3-point range.
This year, in a starting role, The Best Kept Secret has flourished to say the least. He has poured in over 600 points throughout the season and increased his field goal percentage to just over 51 percent and his free throw percentage to 81.4. With just one season of starting for Robert Morris under his belt could Anderson really propel from homeless teenager to NBA prospect? Robert Morris’ and Anderson’s performance in the NCAA tournament may be the deciding factors. If he can have a breakout game or two in front of the nation, it could go a long way in helping him land on an NBA roster this summer.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika