This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s New Jersey edition.
Let’s just be honest: Kyle Anderson is of a different breed.
Unlike most of his peers in the “SportsCenter” generation, the St. Anthony senior swingman isn’t always thirsty for a top play. Anderson won’t wow fans with a quick crossover — his nickname is “Slow-Mo.” He’s not known for jamming on the heads of opponents, either. In fact, the 6-foot-7 senior didn’t start dunking until a couple years ago.
That’s not to say Anderson can’t do these things, but for the most part, he is on that old-school, grown-man’s game, using incredible instincts to fill up the stat sheet.
“People say Kyle is slow, but it’s never been a problem in my eyes,” says St. Anthony Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Hurley. “Other kids might be better athletically, but I wish more kids would play with the controlled pace that he does all the time.
“The way he dribbles and his handle remind me of Magic Johnson, and his other sharp instincts are like Larry Bird,” Hurley continues. “If you can talk about two players like that who had such different qualities while being great, that says something about Kyle.”
Anderson’s on-court success also speaks volumes. Last year, he averaged 14.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game as the Friars went 33-0 en route to state and POWERADE FAB 50 national titles. He stepped it up this summer, averaging nearly a triple-double with Playaz Basketball Club at the Nike Peach Jam and earning co-MVP of the Boost Mobile Elite 24. Entering his senior campaign, Anderson was No. 5 in the ESPNU 100 and had committed to UCLA.
Much of Anderson’s high basketball IQ comes from the fact that he’s been playing the sport since the day he could walk. And that’s no exaggeration.
“Kyle’s been around basketball since he was born, and he began playing on the day he started walking, which was three days before his first birthday,” says his dad, also named Kyle, who coached his son on the AAU circuit. “And ever since his first basketball camp at age 3, he’s played three or four years up. People think it’s crazy, but it’s reality.”
Being the youngest guy on the court also meant being the smallest guy, which is why Anderson quickly developed his point guard skills. At the time, though, these skills didn’t include much speed or quickness, and during one AAU tournament, a team from Texas let Anderson know it.
“We had played this team from Houston and all these Texas people were saying I had such a great game, but they didn’t really know my name,” Anderson says. “So they just called me ‘Slow-Mo’ because they said it looked like I was playing in slow motion. I like the nickname and it’s stuck with me.”
Anderson began his prep career at Paterson Catholic, and at that point his size had become just as deceptive as his speed. The handle, court vision and crisp passes all said point guard, but his 6-foot-5 frame led coaches to place him on the wing or in the post. The move down low took some adjusting, but Anderson has never been one to complain. Plus, he could see the silver lining.
“Kyle’s mindset was not to worry about it, because he knew by the end of the game he’d have the ball in his hands,” the elder Anderson says. “He knew most people wouldn’t want to dribble during crunch time, but he thrives off of that and he took care of business.”
Through two years at Paterson, one piece of business remained unsettled — winning a state championship. St. Patrick and St. Anthony had each ended the Cougars’ title dreams in the Non-Public North B title game. Then, just months after going 28-1 during his sophomore year, a greater reality set in, as financial woes shut the doors of Paterson Catholic. Never mind winning a championship — Anderson didn’t have a school.
“It was tough, almost like a loss or death in the family because we had become that close,” Anderson says.
As Anderson searched for a new school, he remembered seeing a documentary about Bob Hurley reviving the hoops program at St. Anthony, which was about 25 minutes from his Fairview home. To him, the switch was a no-brainer; to others, not so much.
“With St. Anthony being our old rivals, some people teased us by saying if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” recalls Anderson, who enrolled at the Jersey City program along with Cougars teammate Myles Mack. “But we just put all that aside.”
Of course, Hurley had no problem welcoming Anderson. The legendary coach was first introduced to Anderson after seeing him star as an 8-year-old at his annual basketball camp.
“I felt good about how things would go, but it wasn’t until I coached him this past year that I realized what a unique talent he is,” Hurley says. “He challenges you to try to use his size, skill set, ability to pass the ball and understanding of the game effectively on the court. We wanted to put the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
Such was the case during the SNY Invitational last January. With the Friars down eight in the fourth quarter to New York’s Boys & Girls, Anderson took over, scoring eight of his 10 points in the final period. He finished with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, tournament MVP honors and another St. Anthony win.
Two months later in the Non-Public North B championship game, Anderson found himself in a similar position. Not only was his team down in the fourth quarter, this time to No. 1 St. Patrick, but the elusive state and national titles were once again on the line.
“Me and Myles had been here twice before and got stopped, so there was no way we were going to come that close again and lose,” Anderson says. “I told myself to do whatever it takes to win.”
Anderson provided a bit of everything in the final quarter for the Friars, recording seven points, four rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal to seal a 62-45 comeback win, and ultimately, the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
With Mack now at Rutgers, the onus of defending the Friars’ titles falls on Anderson, who enters this season as the team’s No. 1 scorer, top passer and unquestioned floor general. But that’s fine by Anderson, who’s never had a problem playing multiple positions.
“It’s amazing to watch him play because he’s always two plays ahead,” says Kyle’s trainer, Joe Hohn. “Me as a trainer, I can’t teach that. It’s just something you have, and Kyle has it.”
Brandon Parker covers New Jersey for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHIGHSCHOOL.com. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.