A Seat in the Bleachers: Anosike has been beacon in a stormy Siena season
LOUDONVILLE So much for towel-snapping locker room hijinks.
My first impression of O.D. Anosike during his freshman year at Siena — what will be a lasting impression — came within the cramped confines of one of the small MAAC gyms.
Any locker room is a petri dish for good-natured ribbing, a breeding ground for the insult game, especially when the team is in the process of winning 27 games and headed to the NCAA tournament, as Siena was that year.
You hear some pretty good material in there.
Maybe somebody missed a dunk.
Dead man walking.
But Anosike was mildly riding somebody about a paper that was due in class.
This was different. From a freshman. Right after a ballgame.
In the four seasons since then, Anosike has done nothing to change that impression, that of an academically serious student and an athletically serious basketball player, mature beyond his years.
In fact, that impression has been reinforced over and over to the point now where Anosike will play one more game on his home court, and then be gone, but never forgotten despite a season that many would rather just forget.
He’s the only senior on the roster, so Siena fans will be able to direct all their energy in one direction when the Saints play their Senior Night game against Marist at the Times Union Center on Friday.
Anosike has endured a season in which opponents, without fail, have thrown double teams at him.
More often than not, his kickout passes have not led to consistent outside shooting.
The Saints simply have not punished teams for the punishment Anosike takes on a nightly basis.
But, a verbal spat with head coach Mitch Buonaguro on the bench in an ugly loss to Loyola last Friday notwithstanding, Anosike has been a rock of consistency.
Remarkably, while teammates have been in and out of the lineup for a variety of reasons, he has not missed a game in his entire college career, and has missed just one start since the beginning of his sophomore season.
“He’s been really durable and reliable, and he’s the face of the program off the court, academically,” Buonaguro said after practice on Tuesday. “And, obviously, his play has been outstanding.
“He’s been consistent, he’s been a good player, a good person, and I think he’s gotten a lot out of his experience here at Siena, and Siena’s been good to him.”
The closest Anosike has come to missing a game at Siena was when he sprained his knee during the MAAC tournament as a freshman.
He also suffered through some back problems last year and was frequently held out of practice at the end of the season for the purpose of preservation.
That hasn’t been an issue this season, despite the load he has carried, leading the team in points and being among one of the leading rebounders in the country, after being No. 1 in that department last year.
He also leads the team in average minutes (37.4), and after sophomore point guard Evan Hymes missed Sunday’s wild overtime win over Radford, Anosike was the last man standing as the only Saint to have played in every game this season.
“I haven’t missed a game probably since grammar school. If that,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever missed a game because of injury. It’s a combination of taking care of my body and God’s been on my side.”
As a senior at St. Peter’s Boys on Staten Island, Anosike had full scholarship offers from 38 schools.
Siena was on his radar because a fellow Staten Islander, Ryan Rossiter, was already here, but also because the Saints were in the midst of a run under Fran McCaffery during which Siena won three straight MAAC championships.
He narrowed it down to Siena, Delaware, Hofstra, Temple and George Mason, and the tipping point came when he made his official visit and met the team, saw the campus and the Times Union Center, an important recruiting tool for Siena.
“I just saw what a tremendous venue it was,” he said. “The academic people were phenomenal, they had the major I was interested in. Just all-around, a perfect situation.
“The fan base for a relatively small school is unbelievable. It’s really blown me away. The support we get, night in and night out, win or lose, is second to none.”
Those fans will get one last look at Anosike, who expects to experience mixed emotions on Friday.
After games this season, usually a loss, he’s been a calm, willing spokesperson for the team, usually decked out in his latest tasty suit and sporting black-rimmed non-prescription glasses that “make me look smart.” Don’t be fooled. It’s his 3.66 GPA last fall as an academic All-America candidate in economics while taking 18 credit-hours that makes him look smart.
So “reliable” seems like an inadequate word, but it is an invaluable commodity this season, a dismal 7-21 campaign that is just the third 20-loss season in program history.
That can wear anyone down, but the frustration really has only manifested itself during the Loyola game, when Anosike was benched and had a series of verbal exchanges with Buonaguro before being escorted to the end of the bench by assistant coach Craig Carter.
“It was nothing. It was more frustration than anything,” Buonaguro said. “O.D. and I talk about a lot of other things other than basketball. He’s been in my office eight, nine times since the incident, talking about different things. It was unfortunate it happened. I don’t think it was a big deal. It happens sometimes, and it’s over with.”
“I think I’m naturally an optimistic person,” Anosike said. “I always try to look at things in a positive light. So this year, when we had our downs, I was trying to look at how well the coaches were doing or how positive the defense was, things like that, just look at the positive things.”
Anosike, whose sister, Nicky, is a WNBA veteran who is currently playing pro ball in Turkey, has been watched by scouts from the NBA and European pro leagues, so that’s what he expects to be doing, somewhere, at this time next year, as are several of his former Siena teammates, including Rossiter.
When his playing days are over, he can see himself back on the sideline as a coach, hopefully at a Division I college.
“I have a huge passion for basketball,” he said. “Coach McCaffery and coach Buonaguro are two of the best coaches I’ve ever had. They’ve taught me so much. I think I’m somebody who can relate. I’ve been through ups, I’ve been through downs. I think I would have a nice even keel and would make a pretty good coach.
“To be honest, I would try to style myself after a combination of coach McCaffery, coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] and a little bit of Bobby Knight. Scream a little bit, but also dress nice and win some games.