Montrose Moves On in NHSI

Terps commit Anderson helps lead Montrose to NHSI semifinals.

Reading about Montrose Christian junior forward Justin Anderson is one thing. On paper the 6-foot-6, 190 pound Maryland commit, who possesses an incredible 38-inch vertical, seems menacing enough. Yet, seeing him in person is a whole different experience. Anderson's talents were on display Thursday afternoon as he and the top-seeded Mustangs of Montrose Christian played John Carroll (Bel Air, MD) in the first round of the 2011 ESPN Rise National High School Invitational at Georgetown Prep.

The gem of the Terps' 2012 recruiting class was a physical presence from the moment he set foot on the floor, drawing attention even in layup lines with his uncanny ability to leap and his incredible physique. Since Montrose Christian (Rockville, MD) does not compete in a post-season state tournament, the Mustangs had been off for quite some time (February 25) preparing for what legendary Coach Stu Vetter calls, “a national championship.” “These teams are some of the best teams in the country (7 of 8 competing are in the Top 50 nationally) and we are treating this as an invitation to play for a national championship”, elaborated Vetter. “If it wasn't for a national championship I don't think we would have waited as long as we did to play in it.”

With the stands packed for the first game of a four-game quarterfinal day, Justin Anderson started off the game on the right foot, driving hard to the rim for the first basket of the tournament. Less than a minute later, Anderson shook his man on the baseline and cut hard to the rim where he was fouled trying to throw down a thunderous alley-oop dunk attempt. Anderson sank two free throws to knot the score up at 4 a piece early in the first quarter.

At many points during the first half it was hard to tell if there was a track meet or a basketball game taking place on the court below, as both teams were wasting no time pushing the ball down court. Just past the 5:00 mark in the first quarter, with the Mustangs down one, Carroll guard Malcolm McMiller drove to the basket for what looked like a clear layup. Justin Anderson had other thoughts however, as he soared in to swipe the layup attempt off the backboard, a block which lead to a breakaway dunk for Montrose guard Tyrone Johnson (2011 Villanova commit). Anderson's incredible athletic play brought the huge Mustang crowd to their feet, but it was nothing new for Anderson, who Coach Vetter called, “one of the most athletic players I've ever coached in my career”, in the post game press conference.

The second half of the first quarter was dominated by two players: Michael Carrera of Montrose Christian and Ronald Scott of John Carroll. Carrera, a 6-foot-6 junior was an incredible physical presence on the boards, pushing around the much bigger Michael Owona (6-foot-9) for some key points in the basket-for-basket tempo that was transpiring. At times it looked as though the Mustangs were rusty from such a long layoff, but Carrera was sharp throughout, providing key buckets that kept his team in the game. On the other side of the ball, 6-foot senior guard Ronald Scott was lights out from long range, going 3-5 from behind the arc in the 1st quarter alone. He was the major scoring force for Carroll in the period and the main reason that his team held a 26-24 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was just as hectic as the first but it was marked more so by the defensive efforts of both squads, contrary to the NBA scoring that took place in the first quarter. Montrose came out firing in the first few minutes, going on a 5-0 run and forcing a Carroll timeout at the 4:41 mark.

Justin Anderson was held scoreless in the quarter but was definitely still a presence on the court, altering shots and finding teammates for easy scores. Also on display Thursday afternoon was his incredible passion for the game and his ability to hype up the crowd. “Getting behind that crazy crowd at Maryland is one of the things I'm most looking forward to about college ball because I'm an emotional player and I love to get the crowd hyped up because then I can feed off that energy”, said Anderson. He was perhaps most expressive on the defensive end, where he would get down into a sitting position, grit his teeth and stare down his opponent. His outstanding lateral speed and his quickness as an on-ball defender proved to be an incredible asset to the Mustangs. “I've always had a love for defense. When I'm guarding my man I always think to myself that if I can lock him down for this possession then I've done my job and we can go down and try to score.”

The major offensive force for the Mustangs in the second quarter was again Carrera, whose physicality was unmatched by any of Carroll's big men. After trading baskets back and forth, the teams ended the first half knotted at 35-35. The top performers of the half were Montrose's Carrera with 12 points and 4 rebounds, and Carroll's Scott with 18 points and 2 assists.

The second half was as physical a basketball game as you will see in high school basketball. Carroll apparently discussed Carrera's domination inside in the first half and in the 3rd quarter he couldn't leave the ground without being mauled by an opposing player. After battling back and forth and with whistles halting play, Montrose broke out to a 4-0 run and forced a Carroll timeout after Tyrone Johnson soared over two defenders for a bucket. The two teams traded baskets for most of the quarter; with no one team really dominating until about the 0:30 mark. Up four, Montrose decided to pressure Carroll, so as to slow down their speedy guards. After Tyler Hubbard forced Scott into the sideline, Justin Anderson soared over to help. Anderson managed to knock the ball away from Scott and after seeing he had no defenders in front of him, glided in and cocked the ball back behind his head before slamming home a thunderous left-handed jam. Perhaps rattled by the eruption of the crowd, Carroll came down and took a bad, quick shot, which gave Montrose possession with about 10 seconds remaining in the quarter. Johnson found Carrera inside, but he was unable to convert on the shot. However, Justin Anderson rushed to the ball and slid in front of a defender to put in a layup just as the horn sounded. Anderson and Carrera both let out deafening roars as they waved their hands up and down while heading to the bench with a 51-43 lead.

“I really credit my teammates for the run that we had their at the end of the 3rd quarter”, said Anderson. “Tyrone [Johnson] and Tyler [Hubbard] did a great job of driving in and scoring baskets and the Mike [Carrera] really opened up the inside with his play and this all allowed me to get some big baskets during that stretch.”

Anderson's fire carried over into the 4th quarter, as he was on the floor diving for a loose ball within the first 20 seconds. The Mustangs looked to be rolling after a huge 3-point shot from guard Tyler Hubbard followed by another Anderson rejection on the defensive end. Carroll hung around by driving to the basket and getting to the foul line where they shot about 75%. After a Carrera put back on an Anderson miss at the 4:27 mark, Montrose looked to be in control with a 57-50 lead. Yet, right out of the timeout, Ronald Scott connected on yet another three, although the Mustangs did a much better job of limiting him in the second half (7 points).

“We definitely discussed Scott during halftime”, said Coach Vetter. “He was killing us in the first half so in the second half we decided to be more physical and pressure the ball so that they would have to pass more and get the ball into other players hands”, he said.

After Carroll had narrowed the lead down to 57-55 with about 3:00 remaining, Tyrone Johnson, who had a spectacular performance with 19 points, cut to the basket for a layup. On the other end, Carroll's Malcolm McMiller converted on a circus shot after being fouled but failed to put in the free throw making it 59-57 in favor of the Mustangs.

Montrose and Carroll failed to score on the subsequent possessions and Montrose called a timeout with 1:30 remaining to discuss how they would protect their lead, since there was a 35 second shot clock in the tournament. Coming out, Tyrone Johnson controlled the ball until he committed a turnover on an errant pass in the lane with 1:15 remaining. On the break, Ronald Scott looked to take the ball in for the tying basket but was met by Justin Anderson who got his hand a solid foot above the rim to swipe the ball off the backboard. The ball was then pushed down court to Carrera, who converted to put the Mustangs back up by four. While Carroll cut the lead back down to 2, they never got any closer as trips to the line by Johnson and Anderson sealed the 64-59 win for the number 3 team in the country.

It is very evident from watching Anderson play that he has a certain swagger about himself when he's on the court, and rightfully so as he is one of the best young players in the game. But, it is a respectful enthusiasm, an enthusiasm for the game not disrespect towards the opponent. He is a great communicator on the court, and takes on the role as a leader because he is so well respected and liked amongst his teammates. I had a chance to talk to the father of Tyler Hubbard, Anderson's teammate, after one of the games and he agreed with my observation the Anderson is one of the most personable and likeable people you'll ever meet. “Not only is he a great player and an all around great person, but Tyler's been playing with him since 8th grade and every kid on their teams talk about what an outstanding teammate Justin is”, said Hubbard's father. “He is liked by all of his teammates and he is so unselfish. He only ever wants what's best for the team.”

In his press conference after the game, John Carroll Coach Tony Martin agreed with his players' assertions that Anderson was, “one of the best athletes we've ever seen play.” “That little spurt he went on there at the end of the 3rd quarter really gave them the momentum going into the 4th which turned out to be very important”, said Martin.

After he was done answering questions about the game, Anderson fielded a few questions about his recent commitment to the University of Maryland. Anderson committed on March 19th, during the break his team had between the end of the season and the NHSI tournament. “It was absolutely a weight off my shoulders. I think I made a great decision to go to the University of Maryland, and I had sat down with my family and coach to go over it and get it done with. Not to rush the decision, but to talk it over and make the right choice for me”, said Anderson. “We had that final meeting about a week before we got back to intensely preparing for this tournament. Coach congratulated me on my decision but he said now it was time to lock in on our preparation. And I was behind coach 100% because right now all of that means nothing. I still have a whole other year of my high school career left, but right now I want to win a national championship.”

After the interviews, I got to get a little glimpse into Justin Anderson off the court according to the man himself. When asked what he was like off of the court, Justin responded by saying, “I'm the kind of guy who likes to cheer people up. If I see someone down I feel like it's my responsibility to put a smile on their face.” Anderson admitted that he sleeps with a basketball and called himself the, “King of Xbox”, proclaiming that he “owns his teammates in NBA 2K11.”

Anderson showed no signs of regret in his decision to attend Maryland, as he smiled while saying, “I love everything about Maryland from the fans to the campus to the team. I just can't wait to play there. I'm going to always have that little turtle in my heart.”

In the second game of the day, the #3 seed Findlay Prep was knocked off by Florida Class 5A State Champions, the #6 seed Dwyer Panthers. Jacoby Brissett of Dwyer, a Florida football commit, poured in 30 points to fuel the upset. Arizona-bound guard Nick Johnson had 22 to lead Findlay.

The gym quickly filled up for the 3rd game of the day as Winter Park and the #1 player in the class of 2011, Austin Rivers, took on Boys & Girls of Brooklyn in a 4-5 matchup. The game came down to the last minutes where Boys & Girls prevailed behind Hofstra-bound Malik Nichols' 20 points. Rivers lead Winter Park with 31 points but also attempted 22 shots.

In the last game of quarterfinal Thursday, #2 seed Oak Hill routed the #7 seed United Faith (Charlotte, NC). Duke-bound guard Quinn Cook put on a show for the crowd, tallying 27 points 6 rebounds and 6 assists for Oak Hill.

The first semifinal matchup on Friday pits Montrose Christian against Boys & Girls at 3:30 and then wraps up with Oak Hill taking on Dwyer at 5:30.

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