Clad in a suit and tie, there are days that Braeden Anderson has to look the part of a law student, but even then it is apparent that there is something different about the 6-foot-9-inch, 240-pound man.
Enrolled in his first year at Seton Hall’s School of Law, Anderson is more comfortable wearing a jersey and some Under Armour high-tops as he goes up for a dunk. That is because the transfer from Fresno State is also a forward on the men’s basketball team.
As he travels back and forth between classes in Newark and practice in South Orange, Anderson is pursuing a combination that is both rare, ambitious and at some points, seemed unlikely.
The kid dubbed Mr. Canada Basketball – Anderson hails from Okotoks, Alberta – has an exhausting routine. Between practice, workouts and school, he is booked about 90 hours a week. Taking 12 credits in his junior year, Anderson has to sleep too.
“We don’t see a whole lot of him,” head coach Kevin Willard said, laughing as he referenced a schedule that constantly has his player running around.
Professor Claudette St. Romain knows the workload for law students is unusually heavy. For a Division I baller, it is even harder.
“Studies tend to occupy your thoughts even when you’re not in class,” St. Romain, who teaches Anderson’s Introduction to Lawyering class, said. “Combining law school with the rigors of Big East basketball is doubly difficult.”
While those rigors may be difficult, Anderson is showing signs of success with the season set to start on Nov. 13. His coaches have few complaints in practice and when midterms came back at the end of October, the hopeful corporate lawyer-to-be was pleased.
“So far all A’s,” he said.
Looking back at his life, his current success seemed unimaginable at points.
Anderson’s grades were not always good. Up until age 14, he said he lacked confidence in school. That was when he had a conversation with his uncle, Robert Meek, a proctologist in Florida.
“My uncle was encouraging me, telling me I could be better,” Anderson said of their talk. “I went, ‘You know what, he’s saying I’m really smart and I can do stuff.’ Because he’s a surgeon – he’s been through the most intense type of schooling you can go through as far as I knew – I said to him, ‘Hey, do you think I can become a doctor? Do you think I could get through med school?’ At this point this was a ridiculous thing.”
His uncle – owner of fancy homes and shiny Ferraris that Anderson admired – disagreed. He looked at his nephew and said, “Of course you could.” That was when the confidence kicked in and the work got started.
Sometimes all that work gets to be a little much. There are days when Anderson finds himself physically and mentally drained.
“I’ll tell him, ‘Don’t worry about boxing out today,’” Willard said, adding that Anderson’s academics come first. “’Just take a break.’”
Anderson’s road to Seton Hall has been a winding one that has included several pit stops and a near-tragic derailment.
He began high school in Canada and played for the country’s senior Olympic team before attending
Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts. A highly-touted prospect, he was supposed to go to Kansas.
Then the NCAA deemed him a partial qualifier; ineligible for financial aid in the Big 12 Conference due to Canadian academic records that did not warrant credit in the states.
From there Anderson decided on Fresno State, a member of the Mountain West Conference, which provides aid to partial qualifiers. In 2012-13 he averaged 17.5 minutes, 4.1 points and 3.5 rebounds for the Bulldogs in 10 games. After the hassle at Kansas, he was back to basketball.
Then disaster struck in Fresno.
It was 9:46 p.m. on a Tuesday night in early September of 2013. With Anderson in the back seat of a Dodge truck, the driver and Fresno walk-on Kyle Jackson tried to swerve away from an oncoming accident. They crashed anyway. One man was killed in the collision. Anderson, more fortunate, broke his neck on impact.
“There’s something wrong with his neck,” Anderson’s mother, Lori, remembers hearing on the phone at 3 a.m. in Okotoks. “He’s done something to his neck. They’re not really sure.”
Anderson’s basketball career was in jeopardy again.
He was forced to undergo a spinal fusion at Stanford Medical. His doctor, Eugene Carragee, had performed the same procedure on Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning a few years prior. The grueling recovery left Anderson with a nasty scar and a new outlook on life.
“I’m just very fortunate to not only be alive and not be a paraplegic, but to be able to play basketball again,” Anderson said.
Forced to redshirt and sit out the 2013-14 season, he returned to a limited role with the Bulldogs in 2014-15. Off the court, he wrapped up his undergraduate degree, making him eligible to transfer without missing another season. With a clean bill of health, he wanted a challenge.
That is why it was important his new school allow him to chase a law degree. Many were scared off by his desired schedule, but not SHU.
Now, Anderson finds himself in the midst of an arduous athletic-academic trial.
“He is a remarkably motivated young man,” said former SHU athletic director and current Dean Emeritus of Law, Patrick Hobbs. “I’m confident he will have success at Seton Hall in the classroom, on the court and in life.”
While his academic plan is mapped out, Anderson’s role for the Pirates remains unclear. He will need to be of service down low –an area where the Hall struggled last year outside of Angel Delgado. But the amount of minutes he gets and whether or not he will start is up in the air.
No matter what, he expects success.
“It really comes down to what your goals are, what you want to accomplish, what you want to get out of life,” Anderson said. “I know I’m doing what’s necessary to achieve my goals.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GPhillips2727