By Chris Mortley | Originally published in Issue 18 of Soar Magazine. Republished with permission.
Headlines are often forged by athletes overcoming obstacles to achieve success, but in the case of Jelson Homes DMU Leicester Riders forward Jamell Anderson, it has been nothing short of incredible.
The 22-year-old was part of the record-breaking team that achieved a second-place finish in the BBL last season, in addition to a spot in the Play-Off Final, and has signed a new three-year contract at the Riders during the course of the close-season.
However, it has been a journey filled with both physical and mental factors that Nottingham-born Jamell has had to deal with, in order to play the game he loves at a professional level.
“When I was young, I experienced heart palpitations,” reveals Anderson.
“I used to ignore it, but I was playing in a big game with Nottingham, where we were down by one with four seconds remaining and my heart started doing it. I turned to my coach and told him that I needed a sub and once I was off, he asked me what was wrong. When I explained, he was p****d off that I hadn’t told him and he stopped me from playing basketball until I had the problem seen to.
“When I saw the doctor, he diagnosed it as Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which is a rare heart condition that’s quite serious. I was told that I can either take pills every day for the rest of my life, have an operation or just stop playing basketball. I tried the pills. After a month, it became clear that they weren’t working, so I went back to have the operation. Going back to basketball afterwards, the operation hadn’t worked, so I had to have a second operation which thankfully worked.”
Jamell’s road to recovery was nothing short of incredible. Shortly after undergoing the second operation on his heart, he was called up to represent Great Britain at under-20 level and admits that, for him, giving up basketball was never an option.
“The idea of giving up basketball never came into it at all,” Jamell confesses.
“I was trying everything. There were times when my mum was concerned and wanted to make sure that I was okay going through with everything, but I was blinded by basketball. Of course, anything can happen in a heart operation, but it didn’t matter; I just wanted to play basketball.
“I look back on it now and I think ‘wow, I was crazy’, I could have stopped playing and had a simpler life, but that wasn’t an option.”
Jamell began his professional career with the now-defunct Essex Pirates in BBL, switching to Leicester Riders in 2011. In addition to playing basketball professionally at the John Sandford Sports Centre, he is also in his final year of a Sports Science with Management degree at Loughborough University.
Looking ahead to next season, Jamell Anderson is full of optimism. Under head coach Rob Paternostro’s guidance, the young forward is hoping that next season sees his transition of boy-to-man and believes that Leicester Riders can go one better this year.
“I wish that I had been coached by Rob ever since I left college,” says Anderson of the Leicester Riders coach.
“As a coach, he’s hungry. He wants all of his players to be better. In no way, shape or form is he ever negative. In everything that he says, all he is doing is trying to make you a better player. On the court, even if he is shouting and getting into it; his coaching style just works for me.
“The fans at Leicester are great too,” he continues.
“You see the same faces every week, they’re serious fans. That wasn’t so much the case at Essex Pirates, where there was a different crowd every week. You need that; otherwise it just doesn’t work. They’re great. At times, I wish we could do more for them.”
Riders have already started recruiting ahead of the new season, with Jamell joined by Drew Sullivan, Connor Washington and Barry Lamble in re-signing with the club. New additions have also been made in the shape of American centre John Fraley and guard Zaire Taylor, whilst Spanish guard Jorge Calvo has also arrived at the John Sandford Sports Centre this summer.
“I hope that we fulfil, if not surpass, the expectations of us next season,” states the Great Britain junior international.
“I’m expecting a lot of ‘Ws’ and I expect us to be the team that everybody is scared of. The way that Rob recruits, he doesn’t just bring in any old guy, so I’m sure they’ll shape up with his mentality so that we’re ready to go.”
And whilst Jamell has high hopes for the team, he also hopes that this year will be a defining season for him personally – as he looks to build on last season’s Most Improved Player award.
“I want to be the guy that people start talking about a lot,” he states.
“I don’t want to be ‘Jamell Anderson; potential’, I want to be more than that this year. The whole ‘potential’ thing is going to change.”
It’s fighting talk from Riders’ young star – but when he’s overcome so much thus far – who is going to argue?
Image Credit: Ville Vuorinen