BOZEMAN — Mack Anderson has watched his favorite college basketball team play for the national championship each of the past two years.
The 2016 season ended in jubilation as Anderson watched his Villanova Wildcats stun North Carolina for the title. The 2017 season ended in sadness as Anderson’s Gonzaga Bulldogs came up short against those Tar Heels.
“We always tease (Anderson) that he’s a bandwagon guy,” said Bozeman boys basketball coach Wes Holmquist, laughing. “He’s got some connections to Villanova, his mom went to school there, so when Villanova became good, it was all-of-a-sudden, ‘I’m a Villanova fan now.’”
Though Anderson has recently claimed Villanova and Gonzaga as his favorite teams, the Bozeman High senior has a new favorite college basketball team. He committed over the summer to play his college ball for coach Travis DeCuire and the Montana Grizzlies. Anderson had multiple Division I scholarship offers, including one from hometown Montana State.
The flurry of activity surrounding Anderson’s recruitment seemingly came out of nowhere. He averaged just 2.9 points per game for last year’s senior-laden Hawks but put together a sensational offseason. Not only did Anderson continue to grow, his confidence continued to grow. When that happened, he became a force to be reckoned with.
“All that kind of came together for him, and he started playing well and started having confidence and it kind of snowballed,” Holmquist said. “It was a perfect storm, I like to say. It just all happened at the right time for him.”
“It was a lot of just growing confidence throughout the spring and then the summer. I worked on my game a lot then, but just throughout the spring it progressed a lot and kind of led into the summer,” Anderson said. “I’ve been with (this year’s seniors) since I was younger. Last year I jumped in with those seniors and I had never really played with any of them before, so that had a part in it. I think that just being comfortable with them helped.”
“Bottom line is, he didn’t have a great junior year,” Holmquist said. “A variety of things happened and whatnot. Frankly, I was pretty surprised the attention he got in such a short period of time. I’ve never seen a kid go through it quite like that, but it was pretty fun to watch. It was pretty cool to watch. I think I realized probably about middle of May, I started calling some guys and saying, ‘Hey, you guys need to start taking a look. Is Mack even on your radar?’ And they were like, ‘Eh, I don’t know. He’s 6-(foot)-7, but blah blah blah.’ I said, ‘Well, he’s a different kid. It’s starting to click, it’s starting to come along.’ I’d say by mid-June when we were playing in Gonzaga is when I knew for sure that he had turned the corner and was going to be a DI player.”
“(The recruiting attention) was a lot at first,” Anderson admitted. “Kind of got used to it as it went on, but it was a lot of fun. There were some times where it was a little stressful, but it was good. Most of it, we were gone, too, because a bunch of it was throughout July, so I was with a bunch of my friends for that, too, so they helped out a lot.”
“Just sitting back and watching it, I have enjoyed how excited his teammates are for him. Just watching the kids see him get this attention and how much they love it and how much they talk about, ‘Oh man, you got this, you saw this on Twitter.’ That’s a cool experience to see, because they’re genuinely excited for him. They’re not jealous of him, they’re not envious of him, they’re really excited that one of their best friends and one of their teammates is getting some recognition that he deserves. It’s a pretty cool experience,” Holmquist said. “Mack has those things that the coaches drool over: the length and the size, the athleticism. We’ve had kids who are similar to him, but he’s 6-9 versus 6-5.”
That size is the first thing college coaches noticed. The next thing that becomes abundantly clear is Anderson’s athleticism. He’s not a stiff big guy, but rather a versatile, position-less player. Anderson projects as a ‘big’ in Montana’s lineup, but he’ll play multiple positions this season for Bozeman.
He’s improving both his back-to-the-basket game and his jump shot, which he works on tirelessly. But the best part of his game is a trait that can’t really be taught.
“I think his biggest strength is getting out in transition, being able to run the floor and facing up to the basket,” Holmquist said. “He’s really good off the dribble for his size. He’s good facing up, I think he’s going to be really good at the high-post stuff, being able to slash.”
Holmquist can’t draw an easy comparison for Anderson and doesn’t want to liken him to Josh Huestis, the former Great Falls CMR star now playing with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. Anderson and Huestis are completely different players, but there are certainly similarities. Few Montana high school players can match Huestis’ combination of size and athleticism, which gave him the ability to affect games in transition and on defense.
Anderson has those traits and will provide plenty of highlights blocking shots or rising up for dunks.
Assuming he continues on this trajectory, the highlights won’t stop on the hardwood, either. Anderson carries a 3.8 grade-point average, calls his advanced placement classes “fun” and plans to major in business. His dad owns a restaurant, but Anderson claims the culinary gene wasn’t passed to him.
He might have gotten his basketball skills from his mom, though. She played collegiately at Division III Cabrini University in Pennsylvania before transferring Villanova, hence Anderson’s fandom.
He takes the good-natured ribbing from his coaches well, and Holmquist thinks that personality will make Anderson a fan favorite in Missoula. Not only does he have an energetic style on the court, his happy-go-lucky attitude off it makes him approachable, engaging, easygoing and a little goofy.
“I wore a pink bunny onesie for Spirit Week, if that says anything,” Anderson said with a laugh. “I like to have fun and joke around.”
“I literally looked across at the soccer field and I saw 6-9, pink pajamas walking across the field,” Holmquist said. “I knew exactly who it was, but as he got closer, the pajamas were up to about his knees. It’s not every day you see a 6-9 kid walking around in pink pajamas. That’s the nature of him. He’s just a fun-loving kid. He’s a great kid. I think people are really going to enjoy watching him play this year.”