ALBANY — His contributions have been modest to this point, but Jojo Anderson isn’t worried about filling up the box score.
The redshirt junior is playing just months after he wasn’t sure he’d get that opportunity this season with the UAlbany men’s basketball program, and what he cares most about after each game is simple: How’d UAlbany do?
“I play team-first, so I can’t worry about the stats,” Anderson said after Friday’s practice. “Those things will take care of itself. At the end of the day, if we’re winning, that’s all that matters. I want these guys to experience the [NCAA] tournament, [and] I want to experience the tournament with this group. So, whatever I can do, that’s what I’ll do to the best of my ability.”
Anderson — who transferred to UAlbany last year from Nevada — missed UAlbany’s first 13 games after suffering a knee injury prior to the start of preseason practices. Anderson had a meniscectomy on his left knee in October, but it wasn’t until that procedure that it was confirmed Anderson could try to play this season despite a damaged ACL in the same knee. It’s possible Anderson could require another surgery to fix his left ACL after the 2019-20 season, but that potential need isn’t the 6-foot-3 guard’s top priority at the moment.
“We’re taking it day by day,” said Anderson, who spoke with area reporters Friday for the first time since his injury. “When we get to that point, we’ll figure that situation out.”
Prior to Saturday’s 4 p.m. America East Conference opener at Binghamton, Anderson was able to return in a limited role against Monmouth and Columbia. He has only scored five points, grabbed four rebounds and dished one assist in 34 total minutes this season, but Anderson projects as a crucial piece to the puzzle for head coach Will Brown’s Great Danes. UAlbany has a severe need for another ball-handling guard, and Anderson fits that role even as he continues to work back to his usual form.
“Just bringing Jojo in really adds that depth for us,” said UAlbany redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy, who often has had to shift from his normal off-ball position to point guard this season when senior Ahmad Clark takes a break.
Anderson was one of UAlbany’s top players during its summer series of exhibition games in Canada. Brown said the guard is “a step slow right now,” but the player’s “high basketball IQ” still allows him to play a valuable role for UAlbany as he gains back his off-the-dribble game.
“He makes the right play more often than not, but he just doesn’t have that quickness, acceleration or burst where he can get by guys — or really guard guys, defensively — like he’s used to,” Brown said.
Not asking Clark and Healy, though, to carry burdensome workloads is something Brown said the Great Danes “have to” make happen after those two guards combined to average 63.2 minutes per game during the non-conference season.
If providing capable minutes as a ball-handler is how Anderson can help the Great Danes this season, he’s willing to play that role. Last spring, Anderson said Clark and Healy played a major role in helping him decide to head to UAlbany, and the redshirt junior credited Clark and fellow teammates — and roommates — Romani Hansen and Kendall Lauderdalle, both seniors, with helping him stay positive after his injury.
“They really helped me get through those tough couple months,” Anderson said.
Wanting to play with Clark, in particular, motivated Anderson to keep working toward being able to play this season.
“The relationship me and him had, it was like, ‘I’ve got to do whatever I can to help send these seniors off the right way,’” Anderson said.
At the moment, Anderson knows he’s limited in what he can provide. As his knee becomes stronger, though, he’ll gain confidence.
“It’ll show,” Anderson said.
LULKA COULD PLAY
After missing UAlbany’s last two games and nine of its last 12, redshirt sophomore forward Adam Lulka appears likely to play against Binghamton in a limited capacity after practicing Thursday and Friday.
“So we’re hopeful that we can get a few minutes out of him [Saturday],” Brown said of Lulka, who was not made available for comment after Friday’s practice.
Lulka suffered a sprained ankle during UAlbany’s Nov. 16 game against Manhattan, and that injury has lingered for the 6-foot-8 forward. On the season, Lulka is averaging 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 25 minutes per game.
UAlbany played against a Columbia team featuring a ball-dominant guard in senior Mike Smith in its non-conference finale, and the Great Danes will face the same thing in its conference opener.
That’s when UAlbany (0-0, 7-8) will face a Binghamton (0-0, 6-7) squad built around sophomore Sam Sessoms, a guard who averages 19 points and 4.7 assists per game.
“He really keeps the ball,” Brown said. “He can dominate a game like he did against [Boston University] where he had 40, so we have to make him work.”
ASKED TO MISS
After swishing the go-ahead free throw in UAlbany’s 67-66 win Monday at Columbia, Healy missed the second free throw on purpose to run out the game’s remaining 0.7 seconds.
And, Healy said, he had no problem with that — even if it dropped his made free-throw percentage to 91.7%.
“No, it’s OK. It’s all right,” a smiling Healy said. “I won’t say anything to Coach about it. It was good to get the win.”
At 91.7%, Healy ranked No. 15 in the country in free-throw shooting percentage through Thursday’s action. If he had made that second free throw, he’d be at 93.8% and rank No. 7 in the country.
Healy wasn’t a lock to play against Columbia after hurting his hip in the Great Danes’ previous game against Monmouth. He made 3 of 9 shots for nine points in 23 minutes in the one-point victory, and said he’s near 100% for the Great Danes’ conference opener.
“I feel ready to go,” Healy said.
FINDING A ROLE
He rarely played in his first season at UAlbany and played even less through this season’s first 13 games.
Sasha French didn’t let that discourage him.
“I just was always telling myself to be ready because you never know,” French, a 6-foot-11 forward, said.
Two games ago, French made a surprising start and contributed six points and two rebounds in a dozen minutes. Last game, French returned to a reserve role, but played 16 minutes, and had three points and two rebounds. Those were modest statistical outputs, but he played 17 more minutes and scored three more points in those two games than he had in UAlbany’s previous 13.
“I just tried to go in there and not overthink it,” French said.
French likely returns to playing sparingly once Lulka gets healthy. If that happens, French said he will stay ready for his next opportunity.
“You have to do everything you can in the role you have in order to move onto the role you want,” French said.