By: Holly MacKenzie

TORONTO, Ont. (July 10, 2020) – After a 12-year playing career overseas, Jermaine “Rock” Anderson was learning how to use Google Drive. With more than 15 stops in his basketball journey, Anderson was back home, in Toronto, and also back in school, a student at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. 

“Oh, it was brutal the first couple of months,” Anderson said with a laugh. “Going from traveling the world to sitting in the classroom 15 hours a week, then having to do assignments for 10-15 hours as well, it wasn’t [an] easy adjustment.”

In the years since he’d been a student-athlete at Fordham University in New York, technology has changed much about the student experience.

“I remember I graduated, I printed out all my work, stapled it and handed it in,” Anderson said. “Now I had to learn Google Drive and Google Hangouts, Zoom.  I've never used any of that stuff overseas. The learning curve was steep, but I’m done now and I’m extremely excited.”

Anderson is excited to be home, finally. He’s also excited to begin the next step in his post-playing career, serving as the General Manager of the CEBL’s Hamilton Honey Badgers. After going from country to country in search of the best contract and playing situation for so many years, Anderson himself is now the one tasked with doling out the contracts and building a team of his own. Sometimes those contracts have ended up going to players he recently has shared the court with.

“Guys on my team, I played with them a couple of years ago,” Anderson said. “It’s an interesting dynamic, negotiating with these guys that I played with or played against. It’s funny.”

Like most athletes, Anderson started to get antsy toward the end of his playing career, wondering what was going to be next. With an interest in finance, he figured his next step would be something in that sector and he prepared accordingly, studying in his downtime while in Germany, earning his CSC and LLQP certifications in preparation. A conversation with Canada Basketball coach Roy Rana made Anderson realize that although he was passionate about finance, he wasn’t ready to give up basketball completely. Heading into sports management allowed for Anderson to merge the two interests.

Though Rana was supportive of Anderson’s future plans completely, he challenged his former player to do some research to see the number of people of colour who currently hold positions and titles in sports management (unfortunately, not enough), and asked how he was going to ensure he became one of them. Rana, a current assistant coach with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, previously coached at Ryerson University. He told Anderson about the school's sports business MBA program and though Anderson was at first hesitant to jump back into the world of being a student, he’s glad he made the jump. 

“It’s been good,” he said. “I was hoping I would become a GM one day, but I am blessed that I’ve been able to get this role within a few months of graduating. Just being able to apply everything that I've learned as an athlete overseas and dealing with people, but also everything that I've learned throughout my time doing the program, it’s helped me out tremendously. Just reaching out to players, negotiating deals, and putting a team together has been a wonderful experience.

“During this time [of social distancing and quarantining], having this role has helped me because I've been able to stay mentally engaged and now I’m also working on transitioning my non-for-profit [Fifty for Free] online.”

In addition to his role as GM of the Honey Badgers, Anderson is active in giving back to his community. After growing up in a single-parent household and understanding the barriers that can keep lower-income children from taking up sports, his not-for-profit, Fifty For Free Youth Community Initiative, provides youth from underserved and marginalized neighborhoods the opportunity to participate in a basketball and financial literacy programs free of charge.

Anderson came up with the idea for the not-for-profit while in Germany during the 2015-16 season. The goal, he said, was to combine his two passions of basketball and finance.

“Financial literacy just isn't something that is taught in our education system,” he said. “I wanted to help fill a void for youth in the community. I wanted to utilize my network to provide access for these kids. Me growing up, not having a father, I relied on people in my community, different coaches, people who have helped me in my journey and this is my way of giving back to them, by paying it forward.

“It's free for students in lower-income communities,” he continued. “We want to help them identify their passions at an early age and we want to give them the tools, we want to equip them to monetize those skills so that when they do leave their environment it isn't a culture shock to them. For me, being overseas, I was able to break that shock and now I'm comfortable in any environment. For kids that may never have that experience, how can we get them to assimilate in corporate Canada and for them to feel comfortable? Maybe they’re the only black person in the room. We’re trying to break different systemic cycles.”


Anderson has also recently given his voice to “Right To Play In Conversation: Ally is a Verb” live discussion on Facebook. Taking part with other Black athletes and media personalities in Canada, Anderson used the opportunity to talk about his own experiences as well as listen to his fellow panelists. 

“I enjoyed it,” Anderson said. “I think I said in the discussion that it was healing for me. Just hearing the perspective from other athletes, sharing what it is that they are going through. For me I tend to internalize things and for me to open up and to share, just to tell everybody how I'm feeling, it helped me. To talk about the importance of what it means to be an ally and what corporations and people can do to help break these cycles that are currently in place, hopefully the people that tuned in got something from it. For me personally, it was healing and I'm glad I was able to share.”

Though Anderson’s role is now to build his own basketball team, he says he owes a lot to former Senior Men’s National Team head coach Jay Triano for helping to jumpstart his own national team playing career.

“I’m extremely grateful and thankful to Jay Triano for bringing me on,” Anderson said. “He brought me in in 2003 when I was finished my freshman year. He was just like, ‘Hey Jermaine, do you want to work out with our team and play against Steve Nash every day?’ and it was like, ‘When do I need to be there?’ I was thrown into the fire. I just started out on the senior team and I learned on the job, found the brotherhood that I was able to form with these different guys. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just playing hard and trying to prove myself.”

Though Anderson says his favourite moment with the Senior Men’s National Team is when they qualified for the World Championships, there’s another moment that stands out to the former team captain for Team Canada. This one took place at the airport in 2005, a year after Anderson had joined the program, while the team was waiting at the gate for a team flight. Upset that he wasn’t playing and feeling he was deserving of more playing time, Anderson had a candid conversation with coach Leo Rautins who was honest with him and told him he didn't yet have a good enough understanding of the FIBA game for the minutes he was seeking.

“From that moment I sort of changed my approach and process,” Anderson said. “I took that and it helped me, and Leo and I, to this day are extremely close. I consider him to be a father figure in my life and he was honest and real with me. It forced me to grow as a player and a person. When he told me it was out of love. It wasn’t like a contract or we’re paying you this and you’re not playing well, it was out of love.”

That conversation influenced how Anderson hopes to operate in his new role as General Manager.

“Trust and communication are the two things I live by,” Anderson said. “I appreciate when people are honest and upfront and that’s one thing with Canada Basketball, the people I’ve been able to interact with on a daily basis over the course of 14 years, I remember being in Beijing like it was yesterday. Time definitely does fly and that’s why it's extremely important for us to take advantage of every opportunity. The one thing I told myself if I were ever in this position is that I would never lie to a player. I would always live, god willing I will live by this till I’m gone, I have never lied to a player. Leo, and different people, were up front with me and it helped me.”

Though his days of playing for Canada are in the rear-view now, Anderson’s passion for the program will always burn bright.

“The one thing I will say throughout my entire playing career is that playing for Canada was the most enjoyable and most memorable,” he said. “It was the only time that I felt I could just play without having to worry about anything else. The only thing that mattered for me was the win. Just winning games. As a professional, it’s like what are your sets? What are you shooting from the field? Playing for Canada, it’s just about the win.”

Anderson says his friendships with former national team teammates are forever, sharing memories of visiting Carl English’s house in Newfoundland on a recent trip, while also spending time at Jermaine Bucknor’s house in Germany during a visit.

“I kicked my feet up and it’s love, “ Anderson said. “It never goes away because once you have been in battle with somebody over a period of time, you build trust through battle. That’s what we have and that’s why even if we may not see each other for X amount of years, when we do it’s still the same.”

Reflecting, with great admiration for those who assisted in his journey, Anderson is excited for the future, while content in the present. He’s also insistent on giving thanks to those who were there for him at each stop along the way.

“I’d just want to thank everybody that’s helped me through my journey,” he said. “All of the teachers, educators in the community, Canada Basketball for letting me keep my position while doing my MBA, that helped me out a lot. I want to thank [Hamilton Honey Badgers President] John Lashway for allowing me to become a GM, that he trusted me to build a team for his organization. Everybody, just thank you.”

As for his time suiting up in the Canada uniform, Anderson was clear on just how much those memories, and the organization as a whole, means to him.

“Canada Basketball is my heart,” he said. “Regardless of whatever else I do, I'm extremely grateful for the organization and everything that they’ve done for me and all of the experiences that they’ve provided through travel and playing and fighting and battling. 

“Canada Basketball is my heart. That’s how I see it.”