His right arm draped around Anton Gill, the left hand he used to finish an alley-oop during a dizzying 10-0 third-quarter run dangling at his side, Montrose Christian forward Justin Anderson spoke to Gill as they walked down a Georgetown Prep hallway toward their locker rooms.
Anderson saw Gill drop his head after Montrose Christian’s 64-48 win over Gill’s Ravenscroft (N.C.) in the quarterfinals of the eight-team National High School Invitational on Wednesday, and like MoMo Jones (Iona), Tiny Gallon (formerly of Oklahoma) and Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics) had done for him in previous years, Anderson encouraged a budding player.
“He just told me just to keep my head up, keep working. I have a lot of stuff ahead of me. Just to keep working hard and everything will work out,” said Gill, a Louisville-bound junior. “I really appreciated that somebody that can be as competitive as he is and works as hard as he does can look at a younger guy and say, ‘It’s alright.’
“He’s a great player, but even better person.”
Anderson, who finished with 21 points, four rebounds and three assists, is certainly a great player, but when he plays Montverde (Fla.) in the semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Friday, the Virginia signee will have his coach’s even-stronger endorsement to validate.
“Justin Anderson’s one of the best players in the country” Montrose Christian coach Stu Vetter said. “I think a lot of people have made a lot of mistakes in picking McDonald’s All-American teams, Jordan All-American teams. I think that I’ve coached a lot of great players. He’s one of them.
“He’s as good an athlete as ever played at Montrose or any other schools that I’ve been at. Now, he’s got the basketball skills to go with it. I’ve had a lot of guys jump as high as he can jump. Nobody jumps with the power that he jumps with.”
That was evident on his left-handed slam in the third quarter, part of a run that also included an Ishmil Wainright putback dunk, an Anderson 3-pointer and a Michael Carrera and-one. Those plays broke the game open, but as spectacular as they were, Wainright probably trumped them in the fourth quarter.
Wainright, rising for a dunk, lost control of the ball while being fouled, and before he even realized where the ball went, it fell through the hoop. He was asked whether he’d look for the dunk on YouTube.
“YouTube?” Anderson said, interjecting incredulously. “He wants SportCenter. He said, ‘Hey, J, you think that could be on Top 10?’ I said, ‘You’ve got a chance, big bro. You’ve got a chance.’”
Twenty seconds after his accidental three-point play, Wainright dunked on an alley-oop from Anderson to close the game’s scoring. A short time later, Anderson was in Gill’s ear.
“He willed his team to the end of the buzzer,” Anderson said of Gill. “He never gave up. He never yelled at his teammates. He was a great leader, and his teammates, they played as hard as they could to help him out. Clearly, he could shoot it every time and make it, almost. But he was a great team player, and I respect that.”
Anderson, who scored 11 first-quarter points before deferring more to his teammates, could have just as easily been talking about himself.
Asked for response to his coach’s ringing endorsement, Anderson recalled when teammates approached him after he was bypassed for individual honors.
“My response to them was, ‘It happens,” Anderson said. “… Me trying to take something away from somebody else that may be in a McDonald’s game or Jordan game, that’s selfish on my end, because then I’m basically saying they didn’t deserve it. I think whoever got selected deserved it, and I don’t want to take anything from what they did in the gym.
“How I look at it is, I still have possibly two more games with this jersey on. I’m not worried about any individual accolades. I want to make sure these guys are happy, and we all can come back again with the reunion. We can put our rings up and feel the same energy.”
Montrose Christian 64, Ravenscroft 48
Ravenscroft 9 17 9 13 48
Montrose Christian 16 17 15 15 64
Ravenscroft (31-4): Anton Gill 16, Madison Jones 11, Marcus Bryan 9, D.J. Langley 5, Andrew Franz 3, Quinn Billerman 3, Avery Edwards 1.
Montrose Christian (21-2): Justin Anderson 21, Ishmil Wainright 15, Michael Carrera 9, Kevin Larsen 7, Kevin Zabo 7, Yuri Togashi 3, Cedric Blossom 2.