This is Cole Anthony’s second City of Palms Classic appearance, but it’s a much different deal for the senior point guard.
Last year, the 6-foot-3, 184-pound Anthony played for New York’s Archbishop Molloy, which didn’t make the tournament semifinals.
This time around, the son of Greg Anthony, the 12th overall NBA draft pick of 1991 who played pro until 2002, is hooping for Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, which went 44-2 and into the GEICO National semifinals last season. Oak Hill is led by legendary coach Steve Smith, who notched his 1,119th win against Charlotte High School on Monday night, and counts Carmelo Anthony (no relation), Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo and Rod Strickland among its former players. The Warriors have won nine national championships — the last in 2016 — and are in their first City of Palms bracket since 1991.
Oak Hill (9-1) tipped this season at No. 2 in the MaxPreps preseason rankings. Archbishop Molloy, which went 12-17 last season, wasn’t in the poll.
Oh, and Anthony — who is unsigned and has a top six of Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Notre Dame Oregon and Wake Forest — is widely considered the head of his Class of 2019. He’s top-ranked in USA Today Sports’ Chosen 25.
“I feel Coach Smith is the best coach in the country at the high school level and I wanted to come play for him and be coached hard and actually have a chance to win,” Anthony said when asked why he transferred. “He really knows what he’s talking about. I’m excited to have someone that has a vast knowledge of the game and I feed off it every day in practice.”
After averaging about 28 points — what he scored during Saturday’s 107-50 win at Grace Christian in Knoxville — Anthony decided to focus on other parts of his game.
“I think he wanted to be challenged,” said Smith. “He was a scoring point guard in New York. He told me, ‘I want to come to Oak Hill, coach, and play with other Division I players and be more like the Division I point guards.’ So he’s averaging almost a triple-double.”
Anthony is averaging about 15 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. In the 19-point win against Charlotte, he had 24 points, a dozen boards and nine assists as the Warriors advanced to play Olive Branch (Miss.) in a Wednesday quarterfinal.
Smith said Anthony — who was the Nike EYBL MVP after averaging 26.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals for the PSA Cardinals — could still average 25 or so points per game. He just doesn’t need to.
“He knows he’s got players around him that he’s got to get shots for,” Smith said.
In a transition against Charlotte, Anthony and a teammate were running side by side. The unselfish Anthony just flicked it to his fellow Warrior for the jam.
So Anthony is more into passes and crashing the glass.
“I think I’ll be able to average 12 assists and 10 rebounds,” he said. “I’m fortunate (with the surrounding talent), so I can share a little more. It was just a matter of building everyone’s trust up and make sure this team trusts me and knows I’m for them.”
Smith has become a fan.
“He’s really athletic,” he said. “He plays with a lot of confidence. He’s a physical guard. He’s got deep 3-point range. He’s good off the dribble. He’s good getting to the basket. He doesn’t have a weakness offensively. Sometimes he tries to hit the home run pass, which all guys do. I try to get him to make the easy plays.”
If there’s a rub, at all, it’s on the other side of the ball.
“I stay on him defensively,” Smith said. “He could be a great defender, too, but he’s got to be really good off the ball. Guys in high school like to relax. He’s getting better at that and being a vocal leader for us.”
With being tabbed the top dog of his class comes lots of attention, of course. Especially at venues like the City of Palms.
“It’s fun,” Anthony said. “It’s a change of pace, obviously, coming from a place like Oak Hill. This is a lot bigger arena, a much bigger stage, a lot more attention. I enjoy it. Very much so.”
But his face is not yet so famous that he can’t eat out unbothered.
“Not right now,” Anthony said.
“He studies the point guard position,” Smith said. “He studies guys who are playing in the NBA. His dad was an NBA player. He talks to his dad a lot about it. He wants to be the best point guard he can possibly be and he’ll obviously play in the NBA one day.”