When Ryan Anderson was in the eighth grade, his junior high coach told him he would not be able to play college basketball. When he was a high-school junior, most major-college programs overlooked him. When the Orlando Magic traded for Vince Carter and for him in 2009, many people regarded him as a throw-in to the deal.
On Friday, the NBA named the power forward the winner of its 2011-12 Most Improved Player Award.
"I think that's why it's so surreal to me, because my whole life, I've had doubters," Anderson said. "I've had people tell me what I can't do. I'm kind of used to that."
Anderson received 33 first-place votes in the 121 ballots cast, and he tallied 260 points in the balloting. The Milwaukee Bucks' Ersan Ilyasova finished second, with 21 first-place votes and 159 points.
During the regular season, Anderson posted career highs in points per game (16.1), rebounds per game (7.7), field-goal percentage (.439) and starts (61). He also finished as the NBA's leader in 3-pointers made (166) and 3-pointers attempted (422).
"He did the work and made himself into a better basketball player," Magic General Manager Otis Smith said.
"We say it all the time: Eventually you get the dividends. So he's in the beginning process of receiving his dividends. This happens to be one of them, and I'm pretty sure I'll be sitting up here again at some point in time when we start talking about his contractual side of all of this."
Anderson, 23, will be a restricted free agent this offseason. The Magic can match any offer sheet Anderson signs from another team.
"He's really improved physically," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "His body is better. He's in better shape. He's stronger. That has been a huge improvement for him. Then, he's gotten smarter. He understands the game a lot better."
Magic strength and conditioning coach Joe Rogowski gave Anderson a training plan to use during the NBA lockout, and Anderson followed it.
And assistant coach Steve Clifford has worked closely with Anderson.
On Friday morning, Clifford and Anderson reviewed film of the Magic's playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. Anderson has struggled so far, averaging 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 31.8 percent shooting.
Anderson is the fifth Magic player to win the award.
As one perk, he got to donate a Kia Sorento CUV to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida.
"It's very surreal for me to be sitting where I am today," Anderson said. "A year ago, if you would've said that I would be the Most Improved Player, I'd probably laugh at you in your face. This year has been a culmination of a lot of different things and a lot of different people helping me."
Van Gundy said he will go with the same starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Anderson and Glen Davis when the Magic host the Pacers in Game 4 of their series Saturday afternoon.
But Van Gundy did say he will tweak the team's rotation.
Appearing on camera for the first time since he underwent back surgery April 20, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard told a paparazzo Friday that he would never quit on his team.
"I've never been a quitter my whole life," Howard told the celebrity gossip website TMZ as he walked back from a rehabilitation session in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"I've played through many injuries. This is just one that I can't play through, and I would never quit on my team. I would never quit on my fans. I would never quit on anybody, my coach, whoever it is. I've never been a quitter. For people to say that, it hurt."
After the Magic's practice Friday in Orlando, Van Gundy said he had reached out to Howard either right before or right after Game 2 of the team's playoff series against the Indiana Pacers.