There have been plenty of players who have graced the basketball court in Conte Forum over its 25-year history, but there can’t be many who have so outwardly enjoyed their time on the floor as much as Ryan Anderson. The Boston College forward flashes a wide smile when things are going well for his team. Even if the Eagles are behind, Anderson’s expressive and emotive demeanor rarely shrinks away, he vigorously claps his hands in between plays and when he takes brief breaks on the bench. Although he’s been a part of 58 losses during his two and a half seasons in Chestnut Hill, his ability to openly enjoy the moments in between the lines has never appeared to fade.
In December of last season, BC was making a second-half run against New Hampshire. Anderson had strung together a few impressive plays that cut the Wildcat lead to seven, and then he hammered home a strong two-hand dunk the next time down the court. Before his feet hit the floor, Anderson slapped two hands on the backboard and let out an excited scream. The officials called a technical, breaking the momentum, but the Eagles still went on to win.
Anderson’s dunks had a different vibe last night when BC hosted Notre Dame in a 73-69 loss. That joy wasn’t there. He opened the game with a soft slam, expressionlessly fell to the floor, and then jogged back up the court to play defense. It happened again in the second half.
Dick Kelley, the team’s longtime sports information director, died on Thursday night after battling ALS since 2011. The BC players and coaches wore circular patches reading “DK,” as Kelley was affectionately known, on the left portion of their jerseys, and none may have covered a heavier heart than the patch on Anderson’s jersey.
“He’s been such a tremendous role model for me,” Anderson said of Kelley in May. “If I had to say someone that’s impacted me the most since I’ve been at BC, it’s definitely Dick Kelley.”
Kelley had relationships with all of BC’s players, but his bond with Anderson was one of the strongest. The junior regularly stopped by Kelley’s third-floor office in Conte Forum, and when the disease was too strong for Kelley to come into work, Anderson made the trip to Kelley’s apartment for dinners.
“Our recruiting class was the last class that really knew him when he was healthy, and any time someone takes time out of their day, like he used to, to just make sure we were having a good time at BC and having a great experience here is something I’ll never forget,” Anderson said last night after the game.
Before tip-off, Anderson walked to the Boston College bench with his head down. As the BC players lined up for the national anthem, Anderson stood a foot or two to the right of his teammates. A photomontage of Kelley played before the anthem began, including an image of Anderson and Kelley embracing after the Eagles’ win over Virginia last March. He, along with sophomore guard Joe Rahon, held back tears. When the anthem finally started following a moment of silence for Kelley, Anderson lifted his head slightly, eyes closed. The game, and any sort of distraction, couldn’t start quickly enough.
“He just always used to make sure I had a smile on my face, and that’s all he really cared about,” Anderson said. “Just seeing some of the pictures today was real emotional before the game for us. It’s tough that we didn’t get the win.”
It hasn’t been an easy season for BC. The team has disappointed despite some high pre-season expectations on the way to a 6-19 record through mid-February. Kelley never talked to the players about those things, though.
“Today was not the happiest moment of my BC career, but I was just trying to play as hard as I could, because that’s all he ever told us,” Anderson said. “He didn’t really care if we won or lost. It was just did we have fun, and did we play as hard as we could.”
Kelley used to ask Anderson about his mother or how his day was going, not critique his defense or his shooting technique. Even as Kelley’s ALS worsened, he kept sending the players emails throughout the season.
“I’m just going to miss stuff like that,” Anderson said.
Anderson put up 11 points and 11 rebounds against the Irish, he dove on the floor and wrestled for loose balls, he gave it his all-but he and his team still fell short.
“I was having fun and I was playing hard for him,” Anderson said. “But it just didn’t work out.”