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[Chron] UH's Anderson sacrifices hoop dreams for family

Discussion in '2020 NBA Draft' started by BrieflySpeaking, Jun 24, 2007.

  1. BrieflySpeaking

    BrieflySpeaking Contributing Member

    Aug 3, 2003
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    a great story from the Chron this morning.


    Sam Anderson never hesitated. Not for a moment.

    The walk-on forward for the University of Houston knew the decision most likely would end his basketball career, but Anderson knew the man at the other end of the phone — his cousin, Steven Anderson, 46 — was desperate for help, and that's all that mattered.

    Steven Anderson's health was rapidly deteriorating because of renal failure, so one day he thought of Sam and picked up the phone. It was his only option, and Steven had put off this phone call as long as possible.

    After all, everyone in the Anderson family knew how much Sam loved basketball. It had been Sam's haven as a child back home in Detroit, a refuge from the cold realities of the streets, where friends were devoured by drugs and violence.

    Sam loved the game so much he walked away from a football scholarship at Eastern Michigan because the coaches reneged on their promise to let him play basketball, too.

    And everyone in the Anderson family knew that Sam, 25, had recently realized one of his biggest dreams, going from long-shot walk-on to starting power forward for the Cougars, so making the phone call was one of the hardest things Steven Anderson had to do. But Steven, who had been on dialysis for five years and could feel his life slipping away, needed help.

    And by asking for it, Steven also was asking Sam to give up college basketball.

    That's because Sam also would have to give up something more precious than basketball — one of his kidneys.

    It was a call born of desperation, especially because there was no guarantee Sam would be a match for his cousin's rare blood type: B positive. But there were no options, so Steven nervously punched in the number.

    "I called and told him that I had been on the transplant list for five years looking for a kidney," Steven Anderson said. "I had been on the list for so long because of my blood type. Sam asked what he could do for me, so I asked him what his blood type was. We were a match."

    Then came what Steven thought was going to be the hardest part.

    "I asked him about donating a kidney," he said. "Before I could even finish getting the words out of my mouth Sam said he would do it. He still had to go down to Memorial Hermann (Hospital) and make sure everything was compatible, but I began to get excited. I had a feeling something good was happening, and it had been a while since I felt that way."

    Decisive character
    Anybody who's been around Sam Anderson knows he never has had a problem making decisions.

    Big decisions. The kind that are life-changing.

    At age 13 Sam packed up, left his mother's home in Detroit and moved across town to live with his father, Sam Anderson III, a former Marine.

    Sam cryptically says, "It was a decision I had to make," even though it created a rift between mother and child that exists to this day.

    "When I look back on it now," he said, "I've made a lot of decisions that really affected the path my life would take."

    Such as leaving Eastern Michigan. The coaches had promised Sam, a pretty good football prospect at Dakota High School (catching 55 passes for 754 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior), that he could play basketball. But when that didn't happen, Sam left and never looked back, giving up football.

    "I was never really all that interested in playing football," he said. "That was always about trying to make other people happy, like my father, who really wanted me to play football."

    With no options — and little money — available, Sam made another important decision, this time joining the Navy, where he served as a culinary specialist. During his two-year stint Anderson realized his globetrotting dreams, visiting such ports of call as Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Hawaii.

    "I wanted to see the world and experience different things, different cultures," Anderson said. "And I figured it (the Navy) would also be a good way of saving money for college."

    Which led to one more seismic decision — coming to Houston.

    Drawn to UH
    Sam can't remember anything specific about the city or the university that drew him here, only that it felt right. And Sam felt even better about the move when he caught a glimpse of the Cougars' basketball uniforms — red, trimmed with blue and white.

    It was a dream come true. Literally. Sam actually had dreamed of playing for the Cougars.

    "I dream a lot, and I kept dreaming about playing basketball on a team with red uniforms with blue and white in them," he said. "I didn't come here intending to walk on with the basketball team, but once I saw those uniforms I remembered my dream. I guess it was meant to be."

    Yet he was willing to give it all up.

    "I was surprised," said Sam's fiancée, Jennifer Hunt, a sprinter on the University of Houston track team. "He let me know about how his cousin had lived such a sickly life. As soon as Sam told me that he was a positive match, I was like, 'That's wonderful. If someone has a chance to live, then you have to do it.'

    "That's a decision about life or death for another person. That's really what it was all about. He just looked at it as, 'Why not?' I think it was an admirable decision he made."

    Surrogate big brother
    It was that mature nature — and his status as a service veteran — that made Sam a surrogate big brother to many of his University of Houston teammates, especially point guard Lanny Smith.

    "It (donating a kidney) shocked me because of how big it was, but it didn't surprise me that he did something like that because I know what type of person Sam is," Smith said. "Sam is a selfless person, someone who is always putting others in front of himself.

    "He's the type of person who, if you're going through something, whether it's basketball-related or life-related, you can call him up and talk to him about it. He's always there to help others."

    Like Steven, who had been suffering from PKD — polycystic kidney disease.

    It's a genetic disorder that causes clusters of cysts to grow on the kidneys, the organs that filter and excrete wastes and extra fluids from the blood. The cysts eventually replace the mass of the kidneys, leading to organ failure and the need for dialysis and a transplant.

    And that's where Steven found himself as he picked up the phone.

    "I had been treated for kidney failure about six or seven years ago, and I was always in the hospital with congestive heart failure and high blood pressure issues," said Steven, who lives in Katy. "I've spent a lot of time in the hospital over the last five years. It was to the point where I needed a miracle. And that's exactly what I got."

    Humble about decision
    Sam insists that what he did was nothing miraculous.

    "I feel like it was the right thing to do," he said with a shrug. "God designed us this way, with two kidneys, for a reason, because we only need one. I just felt like ... well, it wasn't a duty, but I just felt that my cousin deserved to live.

    "He didn't deserve to die. Not if I could help him. If it caused me to postpone what I want to do, then I'll just have to postpone it.

    "What I want to do is always going to be there. The way things were going, he wasn't going to be here much longer."

    Mere weeks before the transplant surgery was to take place, Steven was the one receiving a surprising phone call. Doctors informed him a matching kidney had been located, only that it was from a cadaver. A live donor would be preferable, but a cadaver kidney would do in a pinch.

    "I immediately called Sam and explained to him about the cadaver kidney, but when he heard (that a live donor was preferable), he cut me off and said, 'I still want to do this for you,' " Steven said. "So I called the hospital back, canceled the cadaver kidney and we went ahead with the live donor."

    It was that simple.

    Given a new life
    Surgery was performed May 29 at Memorial Hermann, and 10 days later Sam Anderson, an economics major who dreams of one day owning his own business, was back on campus, taking classes.

    And for the first time in five years, Steven was able to do little things that most people take for granted.

    Even something as mundane as going to the bathroom was almost like a new experience for Steven.

    "I can't really describe the feeling," he said. "After the operation I called Sam, who was in another room at the hospital, and I told him, 'Hey, I feel like a brand-new person now.' It was amazing.

    "I got my memory back, and that's one of the things with renal failure and the things associated with kidney disease, you lose a lot of your memory.

    "But after the transplant I felt great. My body felt 100 percent better, and I don't have any of the medical issues anymore that I had before, when I was on dialysis."

    As he recovers, Sam is still kicking around the idea of rejoining the basketball team.

    It's not really a goal of his, just an option, one of several he is mulling.

    Sam and Steven are involved in the family business, Leading Edge Lubricants, which is based in Houston and manufactures specialty synthetic and mineral-based lubricants, and Sam dreams of making it big in the business world.

    "I can't allow self-serving thoughts to enter my mind," he said. "I never wanted my life to just be about me. It's always about something bigger than Sam Anderson IV.

    "That's what it comes down to. That's why I sit back and do the things that I do and make the decisions that I make. "I know that at the end of the day everything I do is to give God all the praise, honor and glory. So I just want to make the best impression I can.

    "Basketball is here and I want to do it, but if it comes down to me moving on to bigger and better things, then I'll just have to move on."

    Perhaps a coach?
    Cougars coach Tom Penders said that the door always will be open for Sam Anderson, as a player or even if he wants to start coaching.

    Anything to help "one of the most remarkable" people Penders has met.

    "This is one of the greatest stories I've ever seen," Penders said. "All I can say is that Sam is going to heaven before I do."
  2. bladeage

    bladeage Contributing Member

    May 3, 2005
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    wow... great story.
  3. Sishir Chang

    Sishir Chang Contributing Member

    Nov 12, 2000
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    Great story and Sam Anderson sounds like a great guy. What I don't get though is why he no longer can play basketball. Weren't Alonzo Mourning and Sean Elliot able to play NBA level basketball with only one kidney?
  4. moestavern19

    moestavern19 Member

    Dec 8, 1999
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    For every Ron Artest there is a Sam Anderson.

    Kind of makes me believe the world isn't such a bad place sometimes.
  5. finalsbound

    finalsbound Contributing Member

    Aug 31, 2000
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    that's a great story.

    thanks for posting.
  6. ballaboy

    ballaboy Member

    Feb 22, 2007
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    Very tough recovery process. It took them both years to get back into game-playing shape. They were both All Stars at one point, and they had 1st class doctors and rehab specialists. Anderson may not have any of those luxuries.
  7. Sishir Chang

    Sishir Chang Contributing Member

    Nov 12, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Good point but considering how much he loves basketball I hope he makes an attempt to come back.

    I can't help also thinking it would be great if the Rockets heard about Sam Anderson and offered to let him rehab at their facilities along with if some of their trainers were willing to volunteer to help him rehab.

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