Neumann’s Anderson among best area’s seen

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette
St. John Neumann’s Kevin Anderson drives to the hoop during Saturday’s game against Faith Christian at Martz Hall in Pottsville.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette St. John Neumann’s Kevin Anderson drives to the hoop during Saturday’s game against Faith Christian at Martz Hall in Pottsville.

The first time I watched Kevin Anderson play basketball, he was going through the St. John Neumann layup line before the team’s 2013 season opener.

He was only 5-foot-9 and hardly stood out. Then the game started. Suddenly Anderson stood out, hitting two early 3-pointers. He continued to only grow literally and figuratively.

And by the time Anderson played his final high school game Saturday at Martz Hall, he did more than stand out. He towered over so many excellent players who have competed at Neumann. He now stands among the school’s and area’s greatest players, putting together a scholastic career which would make nearly anyone envious.

Anderson, who will play at Division I Delaware next year, helped Neumann go 108-5 the past four seasons. The Knights won the District 4 Class A championship each season, reached the state semifinals his freshman year and returned to the state quarterfinals his sophomore and senior seasons. Had Anderson not suffered a first-quarter concussion in a first-round game last year which Neumann was leading, he likely would have helped the Knights win more than an already impressive seven state playoff games. Maybe most remarkable of all, Anderson never lost a regular-season game or district playoff game, going 102-0.

Think about that. Current basketball followers might watch this sport the rest of their lives and never see anyone help create something like that unbeaten run again.

“His career is unparalleled,” Neumann coach Mike Kirby said following Saturday’s heartbreaking 44-43 state quarterfinal loss against Faith Christian. “Nobody has had a season or a career like that. What he did for us was amazing.”

Anderson started his entire career, going from a 5-foot-9 guard who started on a 30-1 state semifinalist to a 6-foot-4 force who could play every position and make everyone around him flourish. His evolution followed that of fellow Neumann legend and current Missouri State standout Alize Johnson. Anderson just kept getting better and better, earning third team all-state honors as a sophomore and first team honors as a junior. Anderson is a virtual lock for first team again this year and he should receive serious consideration for Player of the Year.

It is hard imagining a player having a better season than Anderson. He nearly averaged a triple-double including 19 points per game. He led the area in assists and ranked among the area’s best in rebounds, steals and blocked shots. Anderson literally did it all and also was an elite defender who could instantly change a game’s complexion.

“After the district final, the Millville coach (Rick Reichner) was saying ‘what do you do?’ when somebody asked how you try and stop him,'” Kirby said. “He’s too good of a passer, he’s too good of a scorer, he’s too good a rebounder, he’s too good a defender. I’ve seen big guys before and they were posting up or shooters that could light it up, but this guy has the whole arsenal.”

As explosive as he was, as tough as he was and as sweet a shooter as he was, Anderson was an even better worker. All the championships and achievements only increased Anderson’s drive. He was a gym rat who worked on all aspects of his game and spent his summers playing against elite competition.

Each year, Anderson made huge strides. His junior year was spectacular and that Anderson’s senior year was so much better speaks volumes about his desire and work ethic.

“Kevin Anderson is just the best player I’ve ever played with,” Neumann forward Jaiden Cioffi said. “He is making every one around him better.”

Above everything, that was Anderson’s greatest attribute. As talented as he was, Anderson could not have helped Neumann achieve all it has the last four seasons if he was a selfish player. Had he chosen, Anderson could easily have won a second straight area scoring title this season. But he understood the big picture. It was not about him. It was about the team.

Anderson effectively carved up defenses with his passing and made sure all his teammates were involved. It essentially made him impossible to guard. Swarm Anderson and he would pile up the assists and set up his teammates for basket after basket. Back off and Anderson could dominate as a scorer. He had the whole package and showed it time after time, topping 10 assists more than 10 times this season and helping Neumann go 27-1.

“I was very impressed with Anderson because most guys who are capable of scoring the way he is are very selfish with the basketball. What makes him so dangerous is he is a great passer,” Faith Christian coach Tony DaCosta said. “The other guys can score at will, but to also be able to pass the basketball the way he does shows he has an excellent repertoire. He’s like the Russell Westbrook of high school, he’s getting points, rebounds and assists. He’s out there getting triple-doubles.”

Anderson did that four times this season. More telling, Anderson recorded those triple-doubles against excellent teams in big games. Anderson had triple-doubles against District 3 Class A champion York Country Day (36 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists), District 4 Class AAAA champion Lewisburg (26 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) and District 4 Class AA champion North Penn-Mansfield (23 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds). Anderson delivered another virtuoso performance in his last district playoff game as he scored 16 points, dealt 10 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 60-31 championship win over Millville.

The bigger the game, the better Anderson played. Each postseason, Anderson elevated his performance. This year was no different as Anderson shined throughout a district tournament romp before giving three straight state tournament teams fits. In his final high school game, Anderson scored 19 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, dealt four assists and made three steals, all game-highs. More impressive, he helped Neumann erase a 10-point first-half deficit and a six-point second-half deficit, making five of six second-half shots from the field and twice putting Neumann ahead in the fourth quarter.

“He’s the best player I’ve gone against my senior year. He made his shots, he kept his team in the game and he’s really good,” Faith Christian 6-foot-5 center Zeke Snowden said after defending Anderson on Saturday. “He’s really tough because he’s crafty off the dribble and he can hit the jump shot, too. There’s a reason he’s going to Delaware.”

There is a reason he might shine there as well. Johnson and Williamsport graduate Jahad Thomas are having excellent collegiate careers and Anderson’s high school career path followed a similar upward trend. He also shares their fierce determination and will not be outworked.

DaCosta played college basketball at Boston University, competing in the NCAA tournament as a senior. He knows all about elite college players and maybe he saw a future star Saturday. Instead of Saturday being an end, it might just be Anderson’s start.

“The thing is, he is not physically matured at all. I know what colleges are to going do with strength and weights and agility. I think he’s just scratching the surface,” DaCosta said. “I don’t think he’s anywhere near his ceiling as a player based on what I saw (Saturday). They are very fortunate to get a player like that.”

Neumann is mighty fortunate Anderson played there the last four years. No matter what the future holds, he will always be an all-time area great.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse“http://s3.amazonaws.com/ogden_images/www.sungazette.com/images/2017/03/19232910/20Anderson-285×500.jpg” alt=”20Anderson” width=”285″ height=”500″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-698518″ />

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