JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) --Many may not realize it, but a college basketball team from this area is about to compete for a national championship.
The University of St. Francis in Joliet has become a powerhouse, gaining respect across the country in the smaller college ranks.
That campus in Will County is buzzing with the real possibility that this team could come back with that championship trophy. One reason for all that optimism is a young man who joined the fighting saints this season.
An unlikely star who is shutting down potential critics with his sheer intellect and his unbelievable round-ball skills.
When you watch Landus Anderson go through drills at the University of St. Francis, the first thing you're likely to notice is the facemask he's wearing. But that's only because of a facial injury at the beginning of the season. It takes a while to realize that he has only limited usage of his right arm and hand. It's been that way all of his life.
"At birth, I was born with broad shoulders, so on my way out of the birth canal, I got stuck and the doctor proceeded to pull me out by my right arm and disconnected some nerves in my spinal cord. So, that left me with nerve damage or a condition called Erb's Palsy," Anderson said.
The doctors said Anderson would never be able to walk normally or do lots of things that a so-called average kid could do. But here he is today getting ready to compete for the national NAIA basketball championship. But, then again, he's always had his share of "doubters."
"People saying things like 'He only has one arm' or 'He can't do this' or 'He can't do that.' And I can remember looking up at my mom in the stands saying 'You better go boy!'" Anderson said.
Basketball has always been a passion for this 6-foot-6, 20-year-old and his whole family. Both his parents played at the college level in his native Florida, and they never treated him any differently from anyone else.
"My mom showed me nothing but tough love growing up. She wouldn't let me take the easy way out of anything. I can remember saying something as simple as 'I can't tie my shoe' or something at a young age and she got on me for that. She said 'Don't ever say you can't.' She showed me the way. Gave me the mentality to find a way around anything," Anderson said.
That determination is what St. Francis Coach Ryan Marks saw when he first watched film of Anderson playing at a junior college in Florida.
"I said, 'I'm going to watch this full game and I'm only going to watch his production and not pay attention to how he does it.' And so you see a guy making threes and getting to the bucket, blocking shots, playing good defense. That was good enough for me," Marks said.
Enough to complete an already-powerful St. Francis squad. The "fighting saints" go into the tourney as the top-seed in their bracket, ranked number three nationally. Teammates say this transfer standout has made a big difference in their successful season.
"You can watch him for five minutes and you know you can't underestimate him," said Jens Kennedy, a teammate.
And as if all this is not enough, Anderson also had a 4.0 GPA last semester and carries a 3.8 overall. He's a criminal justice major with a minor in psychology. He says he intends to become a lawyer and a role model for others.
"I guess me having nerve damage in my right arm and me being OK in life, I can kind of show them they can be OK too. They don't to take that bad route. They can do the right things in life," Anderson said.
That national tournament takes place in Branson, Mo. starting next week. There are 32 teams competing for the championship title. St. Francis will play their first game Thursday at 9:15 p.m. facing York from Nebraska. No matter the outcome, Anderson and this entire team from Joliet are already winners.