With three seconds left on the clock, Hallice Cooke needed to convert his second free throw attempt to seal St. Anthony’s victory in the Tournament of Champions final. Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson stood on the side of the paint with a lump in his throat because he knew better than to exhale prematurely.
Once the ball sank through the hoop, though, and the Friars’ 66-62 triumph over Plainfield on the Garden State’s biggest stage was iced, Anderson threw his arms in the air one final time in a maroon and gold jersey.
He kept them raised, raised high and aimed toward the packed stands filled with supporters of the UCLA-bound senior star and his historically spectacular team. It was only fitting the kid who only knows how to win left his high school basketball career in the winner’s circle.
Anderson, who scored 14 points and blocked five shots on Tuesday evening in a thrilling contest that saw Plainfield orchestrate a late rally, lost just once in 94 games over the last three years. No wonder the Bruins are itching for the 6-foot-9 hybrid All-American to land in California.
Thanks to Anderson, St. Anthony wrapped a big bow around its second straight undefeated campaign and clinched its 12th Tournament of Champions crown since the event’s inception in 1989. Winning is all Bob Hurley knows. It’s all Anderson learned at St. Anthony.
"I've been coaching for 40 years here and I don't know of another team ever having back-to-back undefeated seasons,'' the Hall of Fame coach said afterwards. "That's saying something because we play some pretty good basketball in this state.''
The Friars extended the program’s winning streak to 65 games -- all with Anderson -- on this night, which, oddly enough, wasn’t about Anderson if one glanced at the scorebook. His fellow senior teammates, Jerome Frink and Tariq Carey, did most of the damage on the offensive end, but Anderson turned out to be the one Hurley singled out in front of a slew of reporters inside the IZOD Center pressroom.
“He’s the most complete player to ever play at the school,” Hurley said of Anderson. “In a time when we’ve had some really good ones, his overall game and just what he’s done over these last two years is remarkable.
“This was Jerome’s statistical game today and Tariq Carey statistically played very well. But the blood and guts and the glue, the player that makes us the team we are is Kyle Anderson.”
Hurley, never one to exaggerate or spit out bold statements, offered the ultimate praise. Considering he produced the likes of Terry Dehere, his sons Bobby and Danny, Rodrick Rhodes, Roshown McLeod, Jerry Walker and countless other big-name players, his compliment says a lot.
Anderson spent the last two seasons with Hurley authoring quite a sterling resume. After transferring from Paterson Catholic, which closed its doors in 2010, he helped the Friars dispose of St. Patrick in the mythical national championship game in a battle of the top two teams in the nation last March. Several days later, he poured in a team-high 17 points in the Friars’ 61-49 win over this same Plainfield team in the 2011 TOC final.
Anderson made sure this winter, his final one on a high school court, ended in the same manner.
“Coach told me to look for other guys,” he said, “and I found Jerome underneath a bunch of times; Tariq, Hallice out on the perimeter, and it wasn’t a game where I was scoring much. It was a game where I was able to get my teammates involved.”
That’s Anderson in a nutshell -- unselfish, team-oriented, the backbone of working as a unit. In a season mired by several transfers and the dismissal of a key starter, the Friars had to adapt and roll with the punches. In the wake of such turmoil, Anderson served as the calming influence and switched roles, from being a floor general to being more of a force in the post, and led by example.
It all paid off. The journey of Kyle Anderson was a special one, one that will go down in history.
So there he was, his bright future in college and beyond ahead of him, living in the moment when the clock melted to zeroes. Anderson’s arms were raised one last time, displaying a splendid picture of joy that we've grown accustomed to seeing so often.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter