After a Hickman girls basketball practice in January, coach Mirts asked one of her players to bring a few basketballs to her father. The basketballs were autographed and eventually raffled support the team.
For most kids, this would be an unusual request. But when Mike Anderson the father signing the basketballs the player is Yvonne Anderson, this normal stuff.
“That was awful nice of him,” Mirts said. “It wasn’t anything huge.”
Mike Anderson is the first-year coach of the Missouri Tigers. His year-old daughter, Yvonne, was named the 6A Player of the Year in Alabama in 2006 and could be in contention a similar award in Missouri this season.
She is averaging almost 22 points per game for one of the top teams the state. Yet, Mike Anderson and wife, Marcheita, try to make sure daughter is just “a normal 16-year-kid,” as Marcheita Anderson said.
And it’s a challenge.
Few players make their varsity debut in front of more than 1,000 fans, with audience including Missouri basketball and football players. Few players cause their former coach to “have a very difficult week,” as Hoover High School Lori Elgin said in March when Anderson told her she was leaving. Even Mike Anderson admitted his daughter has been “spoiled” by her good luck.
Not that her mother would let her her siblings act like privileged kids.
“We have a way of bringing them down to Earth in our house. Nobody gets a big head in our house,” Marcheita Anderson said. “We just remind them who they are, and that if your head too big you’re no good to anybody.”
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There are probably many kids who love basketball as much as Yvonne Anderson does, but only a few have gotten the chance to shoot hoops at famous basketball arenas like Bud Walton in Fayetteville, Ark., or Mizzou Arena Columbia. Even fewer know legendary coaches like Nolan Richardson and ask them for pointers.
“She has a privileged life, and we her know that,” Marcheita Anderson said. “I think she understands that. When she hangs with her friends, the good things about being a friend Yvonne is you can go play at MU, Having her as a teammate comes other perks, as well, like having team parties at the house of the Missouri basketball coach, something Mike Anderson said he doesn’t mind.
“I’m sure they have fun,” Mike Anderson said of Yvonne’s teammates. “take over my room down there in bottom level. Again, that’s that camaraderie that we talk about that you gotta have a team.”
Hickman guard Lauren Nolke said enjoys having the Andersons around, not just because of what her teammate can do with a basketball.
“The house is awesome,” Nolke said. “We have all of our house parties there. It’s pretty cool.”
The house notwithstanding, Yvonne Anderson tries to act like a typical school junior. The ice storms that Columbia this winter weren’t perceived as a hassle. Instead, they were another chance for her and her friends to have some fun.
“I slipped in the ice, but I went out played in it,” she said, something that would probably scare Mirts and her parents.
“I loved the snow. I had a little We ran around and slid. Probably safest thing. She (Mirts) doesn’t like the playing around I do.”
Most of the playing around she does, however, involves basketball.
When she was a toddler, her parents said she was in love with the sport. When she was 2 years old, her father said, she had a basketball in her crib. Until junior high, Yvonne Anderson carried a basket-ball around with her wherever she went.
Summers aren’t spent going on family vacations. Instead, she plays basketball while her father recruits. Basketball doesn’t really let up for Yvonne. But she insists that’s OK. It’s OK, she says, because she loves the game.
“When it’s not basketball season, that’s like the worst time for me and my dad,” Yvonne Anderson said. “That’s all we want — for basketball season to start.”
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With the amount of time she and the rest of her family invest in basketball, she better love it. If not, Yvonne’s life could be a miserable one.
“It’s (basketball) more of a year-round thing,” she says. “Football season is the most I can say we’re off. But winter is basketball season. Summer, Dad’s recruiting, and I’m in summer ball. Spring, Dad’s recruiting, and I’m doing whatever.”
Yvonne Anderson, though, has no problem with all of the basketball. Her parents insisted that she has always had the ability to choose whether she wanted to play basketball. Nothing, they say, was inevitable about her basketball career.
“She’s never wanted to get away from it,” Marcheita Anderson said. “She’s always loved basketball. If you love basketball, you want to always be around it, in a gym somewhere.”That love of basketball, plus the good fortune to be the daughter of a former NCAA basketball player, has made her the player she is today. Some, even by her age, would have too-large egos brought on by their talent and fame.But if you ask Yvonne’s coach or her parents about her, that really isn’t a problem.
Mirts remembers the first day she saw her new player. It was in the sum-mer of 2006 at a Hickman basketball camp, after Yvonne Anderson and her family moved from Birmingham, Ala. to Columbia. Understandably, Mirts had some high expectations for her new player. But, Mirts said, Yvonne Anderson started off slowly. She was reluctant to show her new teammates what she was capable of. That was, Mirts said, because she is shy.
“What everybody forgets is that she’s a 16-year-old who moves away from everyone she knows and is now in a gym with a bunch of kids she doesn’t know,” Mirts said. “She’s just a shy kid. And really, I didn’t see all the things she could do until probably two or three days into camp.”
What she eventually saw was a player who has the ability to do things most high school basketball players can’t do, male or female. A sturdily built 5-foot-7 point guard, Yvonne Anderson some-times allows her teammates to take the basketball up the court. Without the basketball, she has the ability to post-up taller players and simply outmuscle them, either getting easy layups or drawing fouls.
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The thing that really separates Yvonne Anderson from her competition is her athletic ability. Looking at her, it isn’t apparent that she is one of the best athletes in Missouri. However, when she gets isolated with a defender, that opponent usually has two choices: foul, or give up two points. Beyond her quickness, Mirts said, it’s her ability to maneuver her body in mid-air that truly distinguishes her.
“She can do things most women can’t do because she’s so strong, and I mean grown women,” Mirts said. “I mean elevated level as well as collegiately. She’s just so strong. She gets bumped but continues to take the ball to the hole and she will finish.
“She is just all about our team being successful.”
Not, as Yvonne Anderson said, gratifying her ego.“
Any day, any of my teammates, they keep me grounded,” Yvonne Anderson said. “I would never want to embarrass them or upstage them because all of them help me be the player I can be. My job is to make them be the best players they can be. My dad always tells me to be humble, just like he is. He’s never mentioned anything about moving from being just an assistant, when he didn’t get paid, to being the head coach of Missouri basketball.”
Yvonne Anderson’s game, however, isn’t quite perfect yet. Her father wants her to work more on her ballhandling and defense. Her coach wants her to take command of more games, something that goes against her personality.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions where I’ve told her if you need to take the game over, you need to do that, because we expect her to do those kinds of things,” Mirts said. “And she’s capable of it.”
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Part of that capability might come from being a phenomenal basketball player. Part of that may be innate. Maybe it comes from Yvonne Anderson knowing that if her basketball career were to stop for some reason, her life would continue towards some kind of successful future. When she first took the ACT, Yvonne Anderson scored a 28, which is in the top 10 percent of all students who take the exam. She also plays the piano, an activity that tests her mind as much as basketball tests her body.
And all of that, Mike Anderson said, is because of her work ethic.
“Whatever she does, she puts her whole heart and soul in it,” her father said. “She works at it. Some guys are around it, and they don’t really work at it. But she works at it.
“If there’s any reason she’s the way she is, it’s because of her work ethic. She’s got a great work ethic.”
Like many other capable high schoolers, Yvonne Anderson has plenty of options for continuing her education. But academics won’t be the only factor in her decision.
While Marcheita Anderson says her daughter has been receiving letters from schools since she was in ninth grade, she wouldn’t say from where.
“She hasn’t narrowed anything down to top 10 in any schools,” Marcheita Anderson said. “We decided that, as a family, we wanted her to think about it this year but not to dwell on it, because we don’t want her to lose her high school years thinking about that.”
And is Yvonne Anderson under any pressure to play for Missouri?
“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” she said. “My parents understand that’s a personal thing. They’re going to help guide me because I look to them anyway. They probably want the best for me.”
While her mother said she doesn’t have a preference for her daughter’s choice, she doesn’t want her to go too far away.
“I would like to keep Yvonne close to home,” her mother said.Undoubtedly, when that decision is made, it will make more headlines than the usual college decision – something Yvonne Anderson knows how to handle.