When Chuck Daly signed on as coach of the Magic last June, he was given this scouting report on forward-guard Nick Anderson: Confidence is shot, won't drive to the basket, permanently scarred by missing four consecutive free throws in the final seconds of Game 1 of the 1995 Finals.
To Daly's surprise, however, Anderson was the best player in preseason camp. So why the sudden drop in performance when the games started for real?
"The lights went on," Daly answers.
The glare of professional basketball had become unbearable for Anderson. The missed free throws, an injured left hand and a style so devoid of aggressiveness that his team put incentives in his contract that would reward him if he went to the line more often had left him wondering if he should quit. "It put me in a shell, and I couldn't find my way out," Anderson says.
But after the All-Star break, a new Nick Anderson—or rather, the old one—emerged. On Jan. 23 Anderson became the starter at shooting guard, and his game ignited. In a five-game stretch, he averaged 27.2 points on 48.6% shooting. He dropped 37 on the Pacers on Feb. 20, then torched the Lakers for 30 two nights later. Equally significant, Anderson averaged 8.2 trips to the line, a sign he's taking it to the hole again.
The trade to the Nets of the Magic's main operator down low, center Rony Seikaly, has opened up the block for Anderson's trademark post-up moves. When (or is it if?) injured guard Penny Hardaway returns to the lineup- he had missed seven consecutive games through Sunday—Hardaway will play mostly point, and Anderson will remain at the two spot. "Nick got 50 against me in post-ups while I was [coaching] in New Jersey," says Daly. "He's back to that kind of confidence. I just hope it lasts."
What triggered Anderson's turnaround was desperation. Last fall, he turned to noted sports psychologist Jim Loehr, who has helped other athletes, including golfer John Daly, speed skater Dan Jansen and tennis player Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, overcome their demons. "What we determined was that Nick was a person who avoided conflict," Loehr says. "He was a peacemaker. So when the dynamics of his team changed, he reacted with passiveness, figuring if he merely hung in mere, things would be all right. Our goal was to get him to be as aggressive as possible in taking control of his life."
Loehr persuaded Anderson to buy his own home (he had been sharing a house with his mother, Alberta) and encouraged him to hire a chef to cook his meals mid help implement a nutritional program. "As for the games, we told Nick to be an animal," Loehr says. "We wanted him to go to the basket without fear, to put himself in harm's way."
Anderson applauds Loehr's influence but says religion played a bigger role in changing his outlook. In December, at the urging of his mother, Anderson rededicated himself to his faith at the New Covenant Baptist Church in Orlando. "When I walked out of that church, I felt as if the world had been lifted off my shoulders," Anderson says.
Travels with Herb