Local twist to basketball matchup

McKay Anderson used to sit in La Cañada High gym as a child, watching his older brothers play basketball and imagining he, too, would play for the Spartans one day.

However, the 16-year old heard boos when his name was announced Saturday in the lineup before tipoff of La Cañada's CIF State Division III Southern California Regional final championship game.

That's because McKay, unlike his older brothers, was not playing for the Spartans but for La Verne Lutheran, the Spartans' oponent for the championship title.

"I thought it was funny, I really did. I didn't know if they were joking or not, but it didn't bother me," McKay said of the sour reception.

McKay didn't look up at the crowd once, although the stands were filled with his neighbors and friends. The Anderson family still lives in La Cañada. McKay's brother, Rhett, a 2006 La Cañada graduate, sat in USC's Galen Center — on La Verne's side — pulling for his brother. He was shocked by what he saw.

"They had an amazing crowd. I never had that big of a crowd when I played at La Cañada," Rhett said.

All through high school, Rhett played for the Spartans under Coach Tom Hofman. As a senior, he averaged 17.8 points and 9.6 rebounds and was named the Rio Hondo League's Most Valuable Player.

"Tom Hofman's style of basketball is really cerebral," said Rhett, adding that he picked up a deeper understanding of the game from playing under Hofman. "He doesn't have the biggest or best player on the floor, so he can't just hand them the ball and watch them dominate. His style is based on understanding the game and exploiting their advantages over the other team's weaknesses."

Today, the 23-year old junior uses that knowledge when playing forward for Yale University's basketball team.

McKay's outlook on where he'd play high school ball changed as he got older when he started playing travel basketball and meeting other coaches, including La Verne's Eric Cooper.

In 2010, McKay spent his freshman year playing for Flintridge Prep. He averaged 1.9 points and 1.4 rebounds a game. He said balancing school and basketball was too much for him at Prep, so he transferred to La Verne to play under Cooper his sophomore year. This season he's averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds a game.

Rhett thinks his brother made the right call transferring to La Verne.

"He's exposed to a very different type and level of basketball than he would have seen previously, and that's to his benefit," Rhett said. "Every day in practice he gets to go against some really great players, future college players, and that's only going to make him better."

Both McKay and Rhett realized a Spartan-Trojan matchup was possible when they first saw the CIF State Southern California brackets. La Cañada was the No. 1 seed and La Verne Lutheran was seeded 11th, after losing to Price in the CIF Southern Section Division III semifinals.

"I noticed it right off the bat, my brother's team could play my alma mater, but it was kind of a long shot — it's a long way for both teams to go. I didn't give it much thought," said Rhett, adding that he was pulling for the matchup as each round passed.

McKay knew it was more than likely. La Verne was on a mission to prove itself after losing to Price in the playoffs, and La Cañada was playing inspired basketball as well.

"I was at the [Price] game watching them, and I was very surprised they beat Price, because we know firsthand Price is a good ball club," McKay said. "I think everyone underestimated [La Cañada] until they got to us. We knew we had to respect them, otherwise they would come and blow us out."

La Verne pulled out the 54-47 win over La Cañada on Saturday, but the Spartans kept it interesting all the way until late in the game. The Trojans and McKay are headed to Sacramento to take on Bishop O'Dowd for CIF State Division III championship at the ARCO arena Saturday.

"It's very exciting because I've never played in an NBA arena," McKay said. "I've been in them before, but its unfathomable thinking I'm going to be playing in an NBA arena."

Rhett had plenty of mixed feelings at the end of the La Cañada-La Verne game. He was happy for his brother, but sad for his Spartans.

"Part of me wanted La Cañada to win," Rhett said. "You never want to see someone end their high school career like that, on a loss."

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