Anderson still mourns late teammate

Ben Wilson was gunned down in 1984

Former Magic star Nick Anderson doesn't need to see a TV special to remember his beloved high school teammate, Ben "Benji" Wilson.

He sees him all the time.

"I don't think I'll ever get over it," Nick said.

Wilson, the subject of a recent ESPN 30 For 30 documentary, was once viewed as the nation's top prep basketball player. But it all ended on Nov. 20, 1984, when he was gunned down at 17 after an altercation near Chicago's Simeon High School, where he starred with Anderson.

The NBA lost a future star, and Nick lost his best friend.

Anderson was across the street at a convenience store when the shooting took place.

He knows that he might have been the victim instead of Wilson.

When Anderson reached him, he was bleeding and slumped against a fence. He died in a hospital a day later, touching off a city-wide period of mourning and debate about crime prevention.

"It could have been me. I've always said that," Anderson said. "There's not a day goes by that I don't envision what took place.

"I think about it all the time."

Anderson and Wilson were as close as brothers, eating and studying at each other's homes. They had big plans. They talked about heading to Illinois on scholarships and then on to the NBA.

"Ben, he was a superstar in the making," Anderson said. "We had everything planned out. I just tried to follow through on all the things we talked about even after he was gone."

Anderson wore Ben's No. 25 at Illinois and in the pros to keep his spirit alive.

Now a community ambassador for the Magic, Anderson was Orlando's first draft pick, selected in 1989. He became the Magic's all-time scoring leader until Dwight Howard broke the record.

He said that if people want an idea of the player and person that Wilson personified, all they have to do is follow Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant.

"Kevin Durant reminds me of Ben," said Anderson, still emotional today. "Kevin's demeanor, the way he carries himself … that was Ben. I look at KD and I appreciate that young man in more ways than one."

Anderson played 10 seasons for the Magic before the club traded him during a massive rebuild after Shaquille O'Neal left. Dealt to the Sacramento Kings, Nick was heartbroken, having never wanted to leave his adopted hometown. He retired from the game after the 2001-02 season.

There has been talk about the Magic retiring Nick's number from time to time. I have pushed for the franchise to hang No. 25 in the rafters, but it doesn't appear it will ever honor him in that manner.

The club has yet to retire a player's jersey, preferring to reserve that distinction for a superstar. Howard was destined to have his No. 12 recognized until … well, we know the story.

Anderson never made an all-star team, playing in the shadow of such stars as Michael Jordan and Joe Dumars, future hall of famers. But his commitment to Orlando never waned after a solid career.

Honoring No. 25 would obviously hold special meaning to Nick.

"If it ever happens here, that's great," he said. "But, you know, it would mean more to me because, Ben, my high school teammate, wore that number."

Stan weighs in on Magic

Former Magic PF Ryan Anderson, traded by Orlando to New Orleans this summer, returns to Amway Center when the Hornets visit Wednesday.

The mere fact that Anderson is a visitor baffles former coach Stan Van Gundy.

"The one move that Orlando made after I left, that I was shocked by — I could understand everything they were doing, I couldn't understand the move with Ryan," Van Gundy said recently on a Slate.com podcast.

"He's only 24, was already a proven guy getting 16 points and eight rebounds. He didn't play well in the playoffs last year … people overreact either good or bad to a very small sample of games at the end of the year. And there came this myth that Ryan was just a creation of Dwight Howard — that the only way he could be successful was playing with Dwight, which has clearly not been the case."

The Magic said they dealt Anderson to maintain cap flexibility.

Draft's stock rises

The Magic likely will be active participants in the next three or four drafts, a totally different approach than through much of the Dwight Howard Era. It is finally an event to be circled on the club's calendar. It's the difference between contending and rebuilding.

Before the past draft, what have the Magic had to show since Howard was taken No. 1 overall in 2004? J.J. Redick, from the 2006 class.

The Magic had no first-round pick in 2007; chose Courtney Lee in 2008 (he was traded the next summer in the Vince Carter deal); had no first-rounder in 2009; picked Daniel Orton in the first round in 2010; had no first-rounder in 2011; and chose Andrew Nicholson in 2012.

This 'n' That

Ah, timing. A grassroots Twitter campaign to put Glen Davis in the All-Star Game (VOTE GLEN! ) as a write-in candidate began the day that Big Baby went down with a shoulder injury. … Traveling is always an adventure. I was greeted at the Toronto airport by Christmas carolers (nice touch), but then arrived at the Downtown Eaton Centre Marriott to find that the hotel had a curfew, basically. The hotel informed guests that the "power system" was being serviced from 11:59 p.m. to 5 a.m., meaning no electricity (other than emergency generators). No TV in the rooms. No lights. I've been on the road for years, but never had been handed a flashlight ("The Luminator") upon check-in. Meanwhile, at the swank Four Seasons hotel, the Magic were walking around on heated bathroom floors.

bschmitz@tribune.com.

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