Enumclaw head boys basketball coach Terry Johnson struggled to fight back the oncoming tears.
They weren’t for missing out on a 4A state championship, and they weren’t because of the Hornets’ win just moments earlier.
Johnson grew instantly emotional when reflecting on his senior leader and 4A’s North Puget Sound League co-MVP Kaden Anderson as he responded from a struggling first half to lead Enumclaw to a 62-57 win over the Skyview Storm on Saturday to clinch the fourth-place 4A trophy.
After shooting just 2-of-7 from the field for eight points in the first half, Anderson came alive in the second half to finish with 17 points 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
“He’s such a talented player,” an emotional Johnson said. “Those that know him and know our team know that. They know he’s led us here. What people may not know is that you will not find someone who embodies what it means to be a complete teammate more than him.”
Early on though, Anderson struggled to find a rhythm and his teammates as Skyview focused on a number of different defensive rotation on him before settling on a double-team approach.
It worked. While Anderson, because of his length and size, was able to work himself into the paint, he still drew two or even three Storm defenders.
They forced Anderson to miss three straight under-the-basket layups. When he drew a foul on the fourth, he slapped his hands together, smacked his chest and let out a frustrated yell.
If the shooting wasn’t tough enough, Anderson picked up his second personal foul in the opening minutes of the second quarter
“To be honest, I struggled with a lot of the calls that were made in this game,” Anderson said. “I wish I could have been out on the floor a lot longer, but I guess it’s just how the whistle blew.”
He went into halftime leading Enumclaw with eight points, the majority of them coming from the free throw line, but the Hornets led Skyview just 25-24.
But these circumstances describe Enumclaw to a tee.
The 2018 team saying for the Hornets has been: “Play for each other.”
If they were going to survive the Storm and finish fourth, the second half had to be more of that mentality. Anderson’s teammates saw him struggling through the first half, so the saying became more important than ever.
“That’s what this game was all about,” Johnson said. “We play for the community and we play for each other. We may not have been ourselves early, but all it required was a slight adjustments. I just said give it some time, it’ll happen.”
Anderson only needed 12 minutes, the amount of time allotted for the halftime break.
He not only got the Hornets’ first bucket of the second half, Anderson was responsible for the dagger. A shot so perfect, it’s one the program and the community will likely relive for quite some time.
With 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter, Anderson’s teammates set a pick for him to allow him to get to the top of the key. It worked, Kale Engebretsen got Anderson the ball, and he hoisted the 3-pointer with ease, leaving his shooting arm in the air from release, to when the ball splashed through the net.
The shot gave Enumclaw the 38-33 lead, and it never looked back.
“Oh yeah, I knew it was going in when it left my hand,” Anderson said. “It felt good, and we definitely needed it.”
Anderson concluded his senior season of basketball the way he started; as an unstoppable force.
With 1:21 left to play, Enumclaw’s Peter Erickson came up with a steal near mid court. The one white jersey sprinting back to the basket was Anderson.
Erickson sent him a perfect pass, and Anderson rose up and converted the thunderous dunk to secure the fourth place finish.
“All 11 of our guys are Enumclaw guys,” Johnson said. “We don’t have any flashy transfers on this team, these are all local kids, and Kaden Anderson is at the heart of that. That is what makes us, and him, so special.”
As for Anderson, he had no doubt he and the Hornets gave everything they had in their final game together on the Tacoma Dome hardwood.
This year was special though, more than the other three because Anderson and his teammates learned a couple of invaluable lessons.
They learned that they could, and did, conquer Federal Way with great defensive play. They earned a top spot in the state tournament behind that defense.
And, Anderson, fighting back tears of his own, learned he can’t and won’t forget what Enumclaw basketball has become because of the town’s love for the game.
“We learned after Federal Way that anything is possible,” Anderson said. “We could beat anybody. As long as we are together, there’s nothing that can break that.”