Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 14, 2013

The ball keeps bouncing

Words of late father push Anderson on the court

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

VANCEBURG — As clearly as a basketball pounding on hardwood inside of an empty gym, her father’s voice still echoes.

“Play hard,” he would say. “Get a bunch of rebounds ... I love you.”George Anderson couldn’t always be at his daughter

Savannah’s games in person, but those few pregame words were always sufficient.

That’s why, just hours after the 57-year-old George died following a lengthy illness, Savannah suited up and took the court at Lewis County High School on Jan. 4 against Greenup County.

“I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play that night,” she said.

And, just as her dad would have requested, she racked up 10 rebounds in helping lead her team to an 80-62 district win. A moment of silence was held for George prior to tipoff.

Now, just weeks later, Anderson continues to be a force in area girls basketball. The Lady Lions sophomore leads the 16th Region in field goal percentage (61.9 percent) and holds averages of 16.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per contest.

The outpouring of support from her mom, Gaye, other family members, teammates and coaches has carried her through this difficult time.

“It’d be really hard if they weren’t there for me,” Anderson said.

On the night before the funeral, Anderson missed the Lady Lions’ win over West Carter.

“We laid her jersey out in the locker room,” said Lewis County head coach Jay Fite. “We were playing for a lot more important stuff than basketball that night. We came out on fire.”

The entire team went to George’s visitation the following day.

George’s death wasn’t sudden. He was on dialysis for a couple years, and then his health went substantially downhill when heart problems set in this past fall. A heart valve infection in November led to open heart surgery. He never recovered and eventually became unresponsive, passing away in Select Specialty Hospital in Columbus.

Savannah clings tightly to good memories, of which there were plenty.

“He was real outgoing, just a real encouraging guy,” she said. “He was always there for me.”

The father-daughter similarities run deep.

Personalities, both fun-loving and laugh-inducing — “You can never tell what’s going to come out of her mouth,” said a smiling Fite.

Height, both 6-foot-1.

Basketball, George also donned the Lewis County blue-and-white.

Savannah has worn the varsity jersey proudly for almost four full years now. She hit her growth spurt early and was a 6-footer as a seventh-grader.

“People would ask, ‘Your big girl, is she graduating this year?’” Fite chuckled thinking back to the beginning of Anderson’s high school career. “I’d say, ‘No, but she’s almost out of middle school.’”

Anderson notched her 1,000th career point during Lewis County’s first region tournament in girls program history last March. She has also eclipsed the 1,000-rebound milestone.

Anderson poured in a career-best 38 points in a season-opening win over Augusta on Nov. 30, 2010.

This season’s individual highlight came on Jan. 17, when Anderson achieved her first 20-20 game. She tallied 24 points and 20 rebounds in a 60-51 victory over Rowan County.

Again, she’s just a sophomore. But it doesn’t always seem that way, said Anderson.

“I feel like I have to act older and be more mature as it goes on,” she said.

Fite’s noticed a significant difference in his three years as head coach.

“She has grown up tremendously, not only as a player but as a person,” Fite said.

Anderson takes pride in the fact that she is atop the leaderboard in field goal percentage, but she doesn’t brush off her teammates’ assistance in the matter.

“We’re a really close team,” she said. “That’s what makes us good.”

The Lady Lions are currently 15-11 with a regular-season home game against Elliott County remaining before the 63rd District tournament tips off at Raceland. As the No. 1 seed, Lewis County faces Raceland on Tuesday.

Point guard Emily Frye, also a sophomore, has been Anderson’s teammate since elementary school. Frye dishes out 5.6 assists a game, many going in the direction of Anderson.

Defensively, Anderson offers a post presence unlike most in the region. She averages 2.9 blocks per game.

“I just try to play my role position as a center,” Anderson said. “Just play hard.”

Just following Dad’s directions.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.