On a recent weeknight, one Virginia soccer fan stood out among all others at Klockner Stadium. The rather tall Wahoo enthusiast was standing just a few feet off the field, chatting up an opposing player who was preparing to take a corner kick.
Justin Anderson was just being himself, which is to say he was being Simba — the character from the movie “The Lion King” whom he has always felt a deep connection to.
In just one year, Virginia basketball fans have become well acquainted with their Hoo named Simba.
He’s the guy who jumped off the bench like he just won the lottery when walk-on Caid Kirven grabbed a rebound in a 37-point win over Clemson last season.
He’s the guy who implored high school players during UVa’s recent summer camp to put their opponents “into a Betty Crocker.”
He’s the guy who, in a matter-of-fact tone, said he was going to break Ralph Sampson’s record for blocks (but then backpedaled when told just how many he would need).
“He’s just relentless and that’s how I am,” said Anderson, referring to the movie character. “That’s how I am in the classroom and that’s how I am in my daily life...that’s just my nature and I’m proud to be like that.
“As long as you remain humble during your success and things like that, I don’t have any issue with being that type of person. I’m an energetic person. Everything that Simba’s doing is for his family and his friends. It’s never about what he gets from it.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett says Anderson definitely walks the walk.
“When I first got to know Justin, I said, ‘How genuine and sincere is he?’” Bennett said. “Is he really this excited? Does he really care this much when his teammates do well and he’s on the bench?
“After being with him for over a year, it’s a resounding yes.”
Anderson, who, until just recently, went by the Twitter handle HooNamedS1mba, had his share of successes last season.
One of his best performances occurred on the road at Maryland — the school that he originally committed to coming out of Montrose Christian High School.
“I was scared to run out of the locker room,” recalled Anderson, smiling. “I heard all those boos and said, ‘I’m not going out there.’ Coach [Mike] Curtis was right behind me and called me soft. That made me sprint right back out.”
Playing in front of a hostile crowd, Anderson scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked a shot.
Anderson capped his season with an electrifying performance against Iowa in the NIT. In that contest, he had five 3-pointers and five blocked shots — a stat line you won’t see too many times at any level of hoops.
Virginia fans could be in for an even bigger treat this season.
The 6-foot-6 wing is noticeably leaner. He says, with the help of Curtis, Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach, he has trimmed his body fat to less than five percent.
“I feel like I’m moving much better and it just feels really good,” said Anderson, who focused on his core stability. “I’m jumping much higher now. Coach Curtis was shocked. After practice the other day, I was doing a couple of dunks and I could feel myself dunking it as I was still going up. I was like eye level with the rim. I was like, ‘Man, these workouts are great!’”
Anderson had a job at the ACAC and was around Charlottesville training almost all summer. A major part of his routine was lifting weights with his legs — something he says he had never done before.
“I think that was one of my problems [last season] — having that balance between leg strength and upper body strength,” he said. “Now I have that balance. It’s been great.”
As a freshman, Anderson took a little time to get going. Initially, he says he struggled with the challenges of being a student-athlete.
Anderson credits Jontel Evans and Joe Harris for helping him power through.
“[Jontel] was always in my ear saying, ‘Stay focused.’ He said they’d be keying in on Joe and I would have a chance to make an impact,” Anderson said. “Joe took me under his wing and got me in the gym taking extra shots and talking to me constantly about things I should try to do and things I should be seeing more on the court.”
This season, Bennett wants to see Anderson become more consistent in all facets.
“He makes big monster plays — offensively and defensively — that impact the game,” Bennett said. “I’d like to see him fill in some of those gaps and have a more efficient, sounder game.”
Bennett laughed when told of Anderson’s proclamation about breaking Sampson’s record.
“If he does that, that means he’s [being] undisciplined, leaving his feet,” Bennett said. “I’d rather have him break the record for charges taken...
“But if it’s in transition and he’s chasing someone down, by all means, go after it.”
Bennett says he would be foolish to try and temper Anderson’s exuberance.
“Sometimes you have to put some guardrails up and say, ‘Don’t let this distract from what we’re trying to do,’” Bennett said, “but he’s an emotional player and he does have great passion. That’s how he is. I think it’s good.
“Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes. I think on your team, some of your guys are a little more stoic and intense. Justin, you can just see it — he’s alive. I think its good to have the different personalities on your team.”
Virginia players say what you see is what you get from Anderson. There is no alter ego lurking beneath the surface.
“He kind of shows his emotions off the court and on the court, too,” said UVa sophomore Evan Nolte. “He’s a big-hearted, fun guy, a great friend.”
One of Anderson’s favorite things to do in his spare time is support other UVa sports teams. Already this season, he has been to soccer, field hockey and volleyball games.
And Anderson doesn’t just sit comfortably in the stands holding a soft drink.
“I’m out there talking as if I’m on the court or I’m on the field,” Anderson said. “Most of the time if you see me at a sporting event, I’m trying to get front-row seats so I can feel like I’m in the game. When players get close enough, I’ll say, ‘You can’t guard this guy! He’s killing you!’”
“It’s all fun and games,” Anderson added. “It’s mutual respect for athletes all over the country. I mean no harm.”
Anderson’s goal is to attend at least one game of every UVa team by the end of the school year.
“They’re doing the same thing that we’re doing, doing what they love and having fun doing it,” Anderson said. “I want to be there to support them instead of just saying, ‘Oh, I’m a basketball player.’”
Anderson, who recently drew the ire of Maryland fans when he tweeted how happy he was that he didn’t wind up in College Park, says he’s just proud to be a Wahoo
“I cut myself the other day,” said a straight-faced Anderson, “and orange and blue came out.”
The Anderson file
New number: Anderson has switched from No. 23 to No. 1 this season because his favorite players as a kid were Tracy McGrady and Penny Hardaway.
Twitter handle: @JusAnderson1
Favorite pro athlete: LeBron James
Favorite movie: “Lion King”
Hobbies: Video games. “I just bought NCAA football and I’m killing with [UVa quarterback] David Watford right now...he’s a beast.”