Kinney: Anderson developed into leader
St. Anthony head coach Bob Hurley cited the viewpoint several times in December and his All-American senior guard admitted it without a trace of shame.
Earlier this season, Kyle Anderson was missing Myles Mack.
"I did miss him a lot," Anderson said. They'd shared the floor together from the age of seven until Mack graduated from St. Anthony last spring and headed to Rutgers.
"Not having him around at the beginning of the season was kind of hard, but I think my teammates did a great job of making me feel comfortable and sharing the ball."
Now, three months and maybe 24, 25 victories since some of those clunky days of December, we find the UCLA-bound star in the exact groove he was this time last year, when his longtime buddy was still wearing the same burgundy-and-white jersey as he.
The games are bigger now, the attention magnified appreciably and, with all that pressed upon Anderson, this multi-dimensional 6-9 guard is hardly missing anything at all. And that is despite some profound lineup changes for St. Anthony due to injury, discipline or defection.
"With Kody Jenkins coming into the lineup and Hallice Cooke coming in, it's been great," Anderson said. "They've been able to add a lot and bring intensity that helps all of us."
Anderson has grown very comfortable with his teammates not named Myles Mack, which is a wonderful situation for St. Anthony (31-0) and maybe not so fabulous for Plainfield (30-3) as the two prepare for an NJSIAA T of C final rematch at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford. Anderson scored 17 points (as did Mack) last March to power a 61-49 victory for the Friars' 11th T of C crown.
When we say missing here, we don't just mean shots--even though Anderson knocked down a tidy 8 for 13 from the floor Friday night against Atlantic City in the Tournament of Champions semifinals and was 5 of 6 in the Non-Public B final last week against Gill St. Bernard's.
It can be a perfect skip pass to a teammate cutting hard to the basket, a tough defensive rebound to trigger a fast break, a stolen pass in the lane or pretty much any job imaginable on the basketball court, save perhaps directing the cheerleaders' snappy halftime routine.
Anderson handles all these chores with fluency, which is especially remarkable when noted that many high schoolers his size are restricted to merely flash block to block, and often draw gasps of horror from their coaches when they attempt to put the ball on the floor.
Anderson does too, actually, but they usually come from coaches on the opposing team.
Ask Hurley about Anderson's frame of mind now and he'll elaborate on the youngster's outstanding skill set and how incredibly well he is able to mold those many talents into victories.
Anderson has been on the losing end of only one game since the start of his sophomore year, and that was a 63-49 setback St. Anthony in the 2010 North Jersey, Non-Public B final when he and Mack both played for Paterson Catholic. The school closed three months later and the two transferred to the Jersey City power.
St. Anthony has won 64 consecutive games behind Anderson, just two shy of tying the school record of 66 established from 1995 through '97. The current Friars don't talk publicly very often about the staggering streak, but you can bet they think about it.
They are, after all, just kids, even though they rarely ever play like that.
"It is a lot of pressure on us, but I think my team is ready to handle it," Anderson said. "We were in this position last year and we were in this position a bunch of times this season. I think my team and myself, we're ready for it."
Just like last season, Anderson played an entirely unselfish brand of basketball during the course of the regular season and has raised his offensive production in the post-season whenever the moment has been warranted. He averaged 14.4 ppg. during the 2010-11 regular season, yet was at 16.8 in the state tournament. He averages 18.2 this season, but is at 21.4 in five previous tournament games.
"Getting teammates open shots is still the most important thing to me," Anderson said after handing out eight assists in that 72-42 rout of Atlantic City. "I feel my game will come as long as my teammates are going."
Anderson scored 14 points and also had seven rebounds and two assists when St. Anthony defeated Plainfield, 43-31, in a regular-season clash Feb. 9 in Plainfield. He demonstrated his unique versatility by covering both 5-10 point guard Sekou Harris and 6-7 forward Justin Sears.
Clearly, Anderson handled himself more than adequately as his Friars' turned in one of numerous defensive masterpieces this season. But Anderson takes nothing for granted. He is not focusing on how well his club played that night, but rather on the 14 consecutive victories Plainfield has reeled off since the loss.
"They've been playing really well these last couple weeks," he said. "They're a great team, just like last year, and they can possibly beat us. We have to make sure we keep doing what we've been doing. If we don't we'll be in trouble."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS