FRESNO, Calif. – When he was growing up in Fresno, Cole Anderson loved watching NCAA Tournament games with his dad Nick.
“I mean, we’d sit there and watch them,” says Nick. “And I’d say, ‘is that you out there playing? When are you gonna start playing out there? Do you wanna play in this thing?'”
Friday in Denver, Cole will play “in that thing,” and he can’t wait.
“In my opinion, it’s like the best sporting event in America,” said Cole over the phone from Santa Barbara. “I mean, everyone watches the Tournament, so being able to say my team’s in it is crazy, and is a dream come true.”
The former Clovis West star is now a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara, and Saturday in Las Vegas he scored 12 points off the bench to help UCSB win the Big West Tournament title, and clinch a spot in the field of 68, where the 14th-seeded Gauchos will face off against 3rd-seeded Baylor at 10:30 a.m. on Friday.
“I mean, there are upsets that happen all the time in March Madness every year,” says Cole, who averages 21.1 minutes per game and 7.4 points per contest for the Gauchos this season. “So I mean, we think we can do it. America thinks we can do it, so we really don’t have anything to lose.”
It was a family affair at the Big West Tournament in Las Vegas. Cole’s parents were there, along with Cole’s 84-year-old grandparents who drove down from Lake Tahoe, and his two older sisters Emily and Megan, who were also both basketball stars at Clovis West, and later went on to play in college.
“I mean, it’s special,” said Nick about watching Cole and UCSB win the conference tournament title. “I can’t describe it, as a parent, you really have to go through something like that to understand it.”
Less than a week later, Nick and his wife Jill will be headed to Denver to watch their son play on an even bigger stage.
“I had to reschedule a couple meetings,” says Nick.
At the Anderson family home in north Fresno, Cole’s bedroom is a shrine to his outstanding basketball career, the mementos/trophies/plaques/patches from his middle school and high school days taking up a big portion of two different walls.
Those walls are a testament to the commitment it takes to eventually realize a dream, in this case, the dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“I was always out front of my house, shooting on our hoop and stuff, so all that led up to this,” says Cole, who has made 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers this season, one of the top marks in the country.
“I think it’s gonna hit me when I get inside that big arena and I’m watching him warmup,” says Nick. “I don’t cry very often, but I might shed a tear or two when I see him out there with his teammates.”
As of Tuesday night, Baylor is a 10.5 point favorite over UCSB, and history tells us an upset is unlikely but not impossible, because No. 14 seeds are 22-126 all-time against No. 3 seeds.