Naming of basketball court honors former coach

Story by Debora Biasutti

The Blugolds basketball court in Zorn Arena will be formally named Saturday in honor of Ken Anderson, the men’s basketball head coach from 1968 to 1995.

Anderson, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1955 and who was also a Blugold athlete, will join other basketball alumni in the naming ceremony during halftime of the men’s basketball game.

“(The naming of the court) is the recognition of the overall excellence that the basketball program had during coach Anderson’s time,” said Todd Oehrlein, a former Blugold basketball player who graduated in 1991 and was involved in the naming process.

Anderson said he feels very honored, not only for himself, but for his family and his wife, who were a great part of his success during his 27 years as the Blugold’s coach as far as recruiting and looking out for the players.

“The players were the ones who truly made this happen,” he said. “It’s almost like a players’ court.”

Oehrlein said the idea of naming the court in honor of Anderson started in 2009 during a men’s basketball alumni reunion. He and Tim Valentyn, who was on the team in the late 1970s, started to look into the university’s procedures for naming facilities.

Besides naming the court, a group of alumni and friends started a fundraising campaign. Private gifts of more than $90,000 were given to the university to be used in improvements in Zorn Arena, the complete remodeling of the Gold Room and for other needs of the men’s basketball team.

“Once the idea got rolling, then I realized how much support was for (the naming of the court),” Oerhrlein said. “Not purely from the alumni, but support from the community and supporters around campus.”

Anderson has a career   record of 631-152, a winning percentage of .806. Under Anderson, the Blugolds won 14 conference titles and competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament 15 times.

Anderson’s 631 wins  is first in conference history, while his winning percentage is third behind UW-Platteville’s former coach Bo Ryan and current UW-Stevens Point coach Bob Semling.

“His records speak for himself,” Valentyn said. “The word legend gets thrown a lot, but in his case it truly applies.”

Valentyn said he has a general memory of Anderson being a very demanding, disciplined and tough coach, who really stressed teamwork.

“We understood, under his leadership, that the way to win games was to do it together,” he said. “So you learned very early to sacrifice whatever personal agenda you might have for the good of the team — and it worked. We won a lot of games.”

Anderson said that during his career the men’s basketball program involved the whole campus.

“We had the student body standing in line to get in the games, we had the unbelievable cheerleaders, we had hundreds of season ticket holders — it was just a program that caught fire and involved a lot of people,” Anderson said. “I just feel that the naming of that court
represents all those people.”

Valentyn made a similar point about Anderson, and said he felt the basketball games in the past were like community events.

“The crowds were huge and the students were just spectacular. They came out in force and were very active,” he said. “There was nothing like Zorn Arena on the game night back then.”

Anderson said he is looking forward to this weekend so he can see the players from  different eras of Blugold basketball.  He also said he thinks Kyle Green, the current men’s basketball coach, is doing a wonderful job in his first year as head coach.

“I think he is a type of person that players coming in will love to play for him and be a part of the university community,” Anderson said.

Through the naming of the court in honor of Anderson, Valentyn hopes the current basketball players will take some pride in the program.

“We had very high standards,” Valentyn said, “and I have every confidence, from what I know of coach Green and the guys he got there, that can be attained again.”