UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky basketball: Ex-phenom Dwight Anderson reflects on drugs, 25 years off life's radar

Former UK player Dwight Anderson at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on May 2, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Former UK player Dwight Anderson at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on May 2, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Like a shooting star flashing through the night sky. Dwight Anderson shone brightly and briefly as a University of Kentucky player. And then he was gone.

"The Blur," as he was known, is a fitting epitaph as well as nickname.

A UK star for less than two seasons (plenty long enough to tantalize fans with possibilities), Anderson came to Lexington Thursday hoping to make a more lasting impression. Now sober for four years and five months, he wants to be a cautionary tale. He and a publicist, personal assistant and business advisor are marketing Dwight Anderson's life story.

"Even the bad side," he said. "The 25 years of using chemicals."

Anderson's chemicals of choice were cocaine and cognac, an alliteration that led to near obliteration.

"Brought me down 100 percent," he said of an athletic arc that went from the nation's No. 1 high school prospect to cameo NBA career. "I didn't want to play. I wanted to get a paycheck and go to the party."

From the early 1980s until entering the Houston-based John Lucas Treatment Center in 2004, Anderson did plenty of partying. The paychecks stopped more than 20 years ago. Drafted by the then Washington Bullets in the second round in 1982, he was cut before the season began. Tryouts with five other NBA teams followed. His NBA career consisted of five regular-season games with the Denver Nuggets. A sad fade-out for the one-time basketball celebrity (the Andrew Wiggins of 1978) involved three Continental Basketball Association teams, two seasons in the Philippines and finally two games with the short-lived and long forgotten Dayton Wings of the World Basketball League in 1991.

What came next made playing for the Dayton Wings seem exhilarating. Anderson became homeless. He hustled for drug money in pickup games (he noted a $1,000 payoff winning a one-on-one game). He got good at "casing" — the word he used — when fast-food restaurants took out the garbage, and so learned the times to get the best scraps.

Culpatrice Foster, who grew up in the same Dayton neighborhood, saw something worth salvaging. This puzzled her family and friends.

"Why do you mess with that crackhead?" she recalled being asked. "I saw beyond what the substances did. He was not a violent person. His heart is as good as gold."

Foster now calls herself Anderson's publicist. She and Anderson want to spread the word that he is a productive citizen. In 2011, he was an assistant coach for a high school basketball team in the Dayton area. He is promoting a basketball camp for boys and girls ages 9 through 18 next month in Wilberforce, Ohio. He intends to attend Central State University this fall to complete work on a college degree.

It is popularly believed that Anderson's descent began at UK, where he averaged 13.3 points as a star freshman in 1978-79. By Christmas of 1979, he had transferred to Southern California. When asked about the drug use while playing for the Wildcats, he said, "None. None.

"I want to clear something up with that myth. I didn't start using drugs till I went to California."

Anderson denied the accepted story that his departure from UK resulted from getting caught using drugs with then-teammates Sam Bowie and Dirk Minniefield. Not true, he said. He was home in Dayton at the time.

"The only reason I left Kentucky, and this is straight from my heart, was (assistant coach) Leonard Hamilton and (head coach) Joe B. Hall didn't see eye to eye," he said. "And Hamilton asked me to leave. And I left."

Hamilton chose Southern California as his new team, Anderson said.Anderson said he still doesn't know why Hamilton asked him to leave. He added that he intended to ask Hall that question Friday morning when he goes on the former coach's radio show.

Ironically, Minniefield, a recovering addict as well as a former UK teammate, helped Anderson stop using drugs. Minniefield was one of the counselors who worked with Anderson at the Lucas facility. Another former high school star of the same era, Isiah Thomas, helped pay for the treatment, Anderson said.

"Basically, I found out what really was my problem," he said. "If you know anything about this, I am my biggest problem, especially when it's concerning drugs. I know I cannot do it."