BANGOR, Maine — The first time Warren Caruso watched Raheem Anderson play basketball, he was afraid all the other coaches in the south Florida gymnasium for that senior showcase event would be drawn to what they all had just witnessed.

“He hit his first six 3s, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, everyone in the place just saw that,” Caruso, the veteran Husson University coach, said.

That was early 2013, and by that September the 6-foot-1 guard was enrolled at Husson to study sports management and begin one of the most prolific basketball careers in school history.

Entering this weekend’s home games against Green Mountain College and Castleton University, Anderson ranked fifth among Husson’s career scoring leaders with 1,678 points in just 84 games. He trails only Ray Alley (2,657 in 132 games), Dana Wilson (2,471 in 87 games) and Buster Frederick (1,848 in 126 games) and is tied with Ray Felt (1,678 in 104 games).

This winter the senior is the fifth-leading scorer in NCAA Division III at 25.3 points per game, leading the Eagles to a 15-6 overall record and a first-place 12-2 mark in the North Atlantic Conference.

Now he’s focused on leading Husson back to the NCAA Division III tournament for the second straight year.

“Some guys might be on weaker teams and have to average 30 points and their team might still be less than .500,” Anderson said. “I’ve been blessed to have a pretty strong team here every year.”

Everglades to the North Woods

Student-athletes from Florida aren’t a rarity on the Husson campus. The school’s football team included 10 Floridians last fall, and Anderson is one of two men’s basketball players from the Sunshine State, along with sophomore guard Collin Wigfall.

“I started the recruiting process with Raheem in March (2013), and he was one of those guys who fell through the cracks, so to speak,” said Caruso, who has attended the same southern Florida showcase for four of the last five years. “There are no (Division) III’s in Florida so a lot of guys in Florida fall through the cracks.”

Anderson played for Everglades High School in Miramar, averaging 18 points for the Gators as a senior while competing in the state’s top division, Class 8A.

“I definitely did want to go Division I,” he said. “I feel like it was always in my head but I didn’t take the route serious enough. I wasn’t serious enough in the classroom or even athletically to be ready at age 17 for Division I basketball.”

Anderson and Caruso stayed in touch after their initial meeting, and by midsummer he and his family turned to Husson.

“I made that decision based on a leap of faith, to be honest with you,” Anderson said. “I didn’t really know what to expect at first when I came to Husson. I’m a big believer in prayer, and I prayed a lot and asked God to help me land where he felt I was going to be most successful and I let it go from there.

“Everything kind of fell into place. Coach was the most consistent with calling me. Our conversations went the smoothest, and my parents were OK with it. It was far but it wasn’t too far, and everything’s worked out. I feel like my decision to go to Husson has been one of the best decisions for me.”

Impact and injury

Anderson made an immediate impact on the Eagles program in 2013 and started the first eight games of his freshman year, averaging 12.4 points per contest.

But his season ended abruptly when he broke his left fibula playing pickup basketball while spending Christmas break at then-Husson teammate Trevon Butler’s home in Waterbury, Connecticut.

By the time he returned to campus for his sophomore season, Anderson was healthy and ready to join Butler, a two-time NAC Player of the Year, one of the top offensive tandems in the region.

Anderson averaged 17.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore and 20.9 points and 4.1 rebounds a game last winter, earning All-NAC honors both years and teaming with Butler (21.8 ppg in 2015-16) to lead the Eagles to a 2016 NCAA tourney berth.

But just as important as Anderson’s on-court chemistry with Butler was their off-court relationship, particularly as Anderson adapted to life beyond his Florida roots.

“Tre came from Connecticut, so he also was from out of state and he had an idea of what it was like in Maine and at Husson so he helped me adjust to that new lifestyle,” Anderson said. “We’re like brothers.”

A star and a leader

Butler represented the veteran presence within the program until completing his Husson career last winter, but that leadership role has fallen to the quiet Anderson in a much more singular fashion.

“My worries going into games last year were more athletic-wise. I had to be able to play defense and score. I didn’t have to think about the other aspects of being a leader,” Anderson said.

“Early this season was an eye-opener for me. This was the first year I had to be more of a leader. The first few games were a little rough in not having that right-hand man right next to me to help out when things got tough.”

Making Anderson’s leadership role all the more important were lineup changes Caruso made after Husson started 5-4.

Suddenly, Anderson was cast in the role of elder statesman on a starting unit that featured sophomore Justin Martin of Winslow and freshmen Bruce St. Peter of Ellsworth, Justin Smith of Bangor and Jake Black of Hampden.

The moves have worked. Husson has won 10 of its last 12 games, roles in the starting lineup are more defined and the second unit led by Mitch Worcester, Eli Itkin, Zach Curran and Alonzo McCain has established its own rhythm.

Those lineup changes also coincided with an uptick in Anderson’s individual statistics. During a recent five-game stretch Anderson averaged 31 points, six rebounds, six assists and 2.5 steals per game — including career highs of 37 points and 11 assists in a 98-80 win over Colby-Sawyer.

“There’s an understanding that us playing through Raheem makes us more successful,” Caruso said. “He’s so good with the ball and really makes good decisions — his assists have gone up each year — and what he’s doing right now is evolving into that guard who’s scoring at a very high rate but also is taking the pressure off himself by making the people around him better.”

That evolution has included Anderson driving more to the basket for layups or trips to the free-throw line, where he is shooting 88.4 percent.

“That’s something I’ve tried to add to my game this year,” Anderson said. “Trevon was more of our slasher last year, and I was more of a 3-point and midrange threat. I’ve been trying to get my game to be more well-rounded.”

Ultimate success for Anderson this season will depend on whether the Eagles can repeat as North Atlantic Conference champions and return to the NCAA tournament.

But it probably won’t be his final year on the Bangor campus. Anderson is in line to qualify to return as a medical redshirt next season based on his injury-shortened freshman year at Husson, though that final determination has not yet been made.

“He fits all the criteria,” Caruso said.

One more year at Husson will provide Anderson a chance to establish himself even more prominently within the school’s basketball record book.

“You never know,” Caruso said, reflecting on his earliest exposure to Anderson, “but early on there were signs there was a real star quality about him, and he’s never had a letdown.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...