Derek Anderson was a first-round pick who played in the NBA for 11 seasons. Yet since his playing career ended after the 2007-08 season, the former Kentucky Wildcats star has noticed something.
"A whole lot more people seem to remember me from Kentucky than from the NBA," Anderson said Thursday. "People still say, 'That was some team you played on at Kentucky when you guys won the championship.' "
Those comments from strangers about UK's 1996 NCAA champs — on which Anderson was the starting small forward — planted the seeds of inspiration.
In an attempt to make sure that history never forgets just how good Rick Pitino's signature Kentucky team was, Anderson and his associates are producing a documentary on UK's 1995-96 season.
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The Untouchables: The Greatest Team Ever will be unveiled in a film screening in Lexington on Feb. 12, 2010. Eventually, ticket information for that premier and the opportunity to buy the DVD will be available at the Web site www.untouchablesofkentucky.com.
"I was always interested in leaving a legacy," Anderson said. "For me, that team did that. We're trying to make sure that is remembered."
After an early loss to Massachusetts, a UK team led by Tony Delk and Antoine Walker won 27 games in a row before falling, in a stunning upset, in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals to Mississippi State.
The chastened Cats then won six more to finish 34-2 and claim the national title.
Anderson said his crew has taped interviews with every player on the 1996 UK team, including little-used, walk-on forward Jason Lathrem, as well as with Pitino.
In fact, Anderson said, the first stop in compiling footage for the film was the University of Louisville to talk with Pitino and former UK forward Walter McCarty, who now works as an assistant to his old Kentucky coach at U of L.
Said Anderson: "Coach P was like, 'I'd like to have that team back.' "
Current Kentucky coach John Calipari, whose 1995-96 UMass team is a big part of the story, also sat for an interview. After its early-season defeat of UK, the Minutemen of Marcus Camby and Co. lost a rematch with Kentucky in as intense a Final Four matchup as has ever been played.
"Coach Cal mostly just talked about the first game," Anderson said with a laugh.
Perhaps the biggest surprise from taping the interviews, Anderson said, was the relish Walker showed in talking about the championship season at UK.
The forward turned pro after that 1996 season, leaving behind his final two years of eligibility. At the time, the perception of Walker was that he couldn't get out of Lexington for the NBA fast enough.
"Antoine Walker really talks with a lot of feeling about how much that season meant to him," Anderson said. "I think a lot of people will be surprised."
Of course, Anderson shares his own memories. On a team whose roster boasted nine future NBA players, Anderson notes, it was the insertion of the relatively unheralded Anthony Epps at point guard that allowed the UK juggernaut to emerge.
"Anthony Epps knew how to run a team, knew who to run plays for and when to do it," Anderson said. "Without Anthony Epps, I don't know that we win it."
What made the 1995-96 Cats so dominant was not one exceptional player nor even the core of three standout players you often see on NCAA title teams.
Instead, it was a roster filled with talent from top to (near) bottom. Yet no player averaged more than Walker's 26.9 minutes a game.
"You'll never see another team like that because of how the culture of the game has changed," Anderson said. "You won't see kids willing to sacrifice the way guys on that team did. Now, everyone has to get theirs.
"And you won't be able to have that many good players together (at one school). Guys won't be willing to wait their turn; they'll go someplace else to be the stars."
In his second year out of pro basketball, Anderson, 35, said he splits time between homes in Atlanta and Los Angeles. He said he fills his time with diverse business interests.
Often mentioned as a prospective coach during his playing days, Anderson said that under the right circumstances, he might consider it.
Of the three NCAA championship teams (1978, '96 and '98) Kentucky has produced in my lifetime, the '96 one was easily the best.
However, staking a claim "as the greatest team ever" in college basketball history is a mouthful.
Arguments could easily be made for UCLA title teams built around dominant big men Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton.
What about Bob Knight's 1976 NCAA winners from Indiana, the last men's basketball team to finish undefeated?
Is the 1996 Kentucky team better than Florida's back-to-back championship teams from 2006 and '07?
It's a debate without a certain answer.
Anderson aims for his documentary to make an enduring case for The Untouchables.
"To me, the difference is that I don't think any team ever had as many good players as we did," Anderson said. "That many good players willing to sacrifice and share to win was really something special."