CHAMPAIGN — Tim Anderson doesn't mind the pressure or the high expectations that come with being Illinois' third and final full-time assistant. In fact, the Chicago native embraces the challenge of not only coaching the Illini, but winning — and winning a lot.
"We expect to win. When I talked to (coach Brad Underwood), Brad wants to win championships. He wants to win, we want to win, every day," Anderson said Wednesday during a Zoom press conference, his first interaction with the media since being hired earlier this month. " ... (Underwood) wants to win a national championship. He says it every day, and that's what we're trying to do here. We're not just trying to win 10 games or win the Big Ten. We're trying to win national championships."
While in pursuit of those lofty goals, Underwood has gone through a staff overhaul this summer. All three full-time assistants from last season are now with different programs. Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman have joined John Calipari's staff at Kentucky, while Stephen Gentry returned to his alma mater and last season's NCAA Tournament runner-up, Gonzaga.
Illinois hired former Illini guard Chester Frazier and promoted Geoff Alexander to fill two of those spots in May. Anderson, who was previously the director and coach of powerhouse, Chicago-based AAU program Meanstreets, is the final piece of the team's new assistant trio. His first day was Monday, and Underwood said he's excited to have him in Champaign.
"I think he brings a tremendous amount to the table," Underwood said. "There's the obvious, which everybody understands that covers basketball, that he's from Chicago, he's been involved with an AAU program there in Meanstreets. But there's so much more to Tim than that. To say that was not a piece of it, I would be lying, but it's not the ultimate piece."
In addition to his recruiting connections, Underwood also praised Anderson for his player development skills. Anderson, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant at DePaul, founded Ground Zero Training in Chicago several years ago. Prior to his tenure with the Blue Demons, Anderson worked with several future NBA players, including most notably Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis, who were chosen No. 1 in the NBA Draft in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Anderson said he would've been fine with staying at DePaul or even rekindling his training days, but when Underwood gave him a call and asked him to join his staff, it was an opportunity Anderson knew he couldn't pass up.
Illinois is the program he cheered for as a kid and one he considers to be a "blue blood."
"We didn't have cable, so where I grew up you have certain channels, and Channel 26 was a channel that we had," Anderson said. "I grew up watching Kiwane Garris, and I wore No. 22 because of him. ... Dee Brown is also like a little brother to me. Luther Head, we grew up together, so I've been really, really watching this program grow. And when I was able to meet Brad (a few years ago) when he first got the job ... just watching how he was able to build it here to turn it around. I've always had a spot for the university. This is like a dream job for me."
But even after landing one of his dream jobs, a milestone he hopes leads to his ultimate dream job of being a head coach, part of Anderson wishes he could've stayed closer to home.
The Crane High School graduate is heavily involved in Chicago, outside of basketball, and doesn't take those responsibilities lightly. Perhaps one of his proudest endeavors is The Reign Project, a nonprofit organization he started to help curb the violence in his hometown, particularly among the youth.
"The violence where I'm from is really ramping up, and I've never ever wanted to leave the hood, where I'm from. I always wanted to make the hood a better place," Anderson said. " ... It's a lot of different things that goes into violence, people just don't wake up thinking, 'I'm going to do something bad today.' It's homelessness, it's (lack of) jobs, it's lack of job training, it's a lot of things that go into it, mental health. ... You may not be able to change the whole structure, but if you can give people an opportunity and give them a different outlet, maybe they'll try to do right."
Anderson said The Reign Project will remain in good hands as he settles down in Champaign, and ultimately it was his wife who pushed him to be "a little selfish" as he weighed the decision to join the Illini.
As the 2021-22 season approaches, Anderson said he's never been in a college gym with the amount of talent Illinois has, headlined by star center Kofi Cockburn and crafty point guard Andre Curbelo. He looks forward to helping these current players grow, while also recruiting the next ones.
Plus, Anderson knows he has countless supporters watching from back home, so anything less than his best effort isn't an option.
"I want people to see me in the community doing the right thing. So many times we've done bad things and they saw that and whether we know it or not, those younger guys or ladies, they look up to that," Anderson said. "So just me being at the University of Illinois, Chicago is going crazy, my community is going crazy right now."