Rising Son: Cole Anthony remains grounded as he follows his father’s footsteps
This story was published on August 24th, 2018.
It’s 10 a.m. on a muggy summer Sunday, the steam from last night’s rainstorm seeping in through the doors of an unair-conditioned fieldhouse at The Westtown School, and Cole Anthony’s ratty gray undershirt is already soaked through with sweat.
The 6-foot-3 Anthony, high school basketball’s version of Russell Westbrook and arguably the top prospect in the Class of 2019, is there for the PSA Cardinals’ combine, a one-day camp held on the final day of July’s second live period that college coaches can scout. He isn’t supposed to be playing. This was going to be his time off, a break between the grind that led up to Peach Jam and the insanity of a schedule that will take him from New York to Las Vegas to North Carolina to two different stops in California over the course of the next three weeks. He’ll be on the road for 18 out of 20 days, including 13 straight as he bounces from CP3’s camp to Steph Curry’s camp to the Nike Skills Academy.
But here he is, running through shooting drills, busting his ass defensively 1-on-1 and putting on a clinic in how to run ball-screens against players that are being recruited by high-major programs across the country and, at the same time, look out of place on a basketball court with Anthony.
This wasn’t a show put on for the coaches in attendance.
This is who Anthony is, who he has always been.
“His work ethic is on a level that’s unmatched for his age,” Terrance “Munch” Williams, who runs the PSA Cardinals program, said. “His mom could be Celie from The Color Purple and his dad could be Prop Joe from The Wire, it wouldn’t matter. He is who he is.”
You don’t have to run in scouting circles that long to hear a player diagnosed with ‘four-car garage syndrome’.
The definition is self-explanatory: Kids that come from money tend to play a certain way that differs from kids that don’t. For many, basketball is a way out of whatever situation they are living in, and when you don’t need the sport to better your station in life, success may not be as important. That shows up on the court.
Cole Anthony has never wanted for anything. His father, Greg, played a decade in the NBA and has been a mainstay on basketball broadcasts for Turner and CBS since his retirement. His mother, Crystal McCrary-McGuire, is an author and a filmmaker with a law degree. His step-father, Ray McGuire, is a former basketball player at Harvard that has gone on to become the Global Head of Corporate and Investment Banking for Citigroup. His step-mother is a Duke-educated doctor with a dermatology practice.
It would have been easy for Cole to fall in with New York City’s elite, living a life that could be featured on an episode of ‘Gossip Girl.’
His parents won’t even give him a credit card.
“The greatest compliment that I ever got about him,” Greg said, “people would tell me, ‘He plays like he’s hungry. He plays like he’s poor.’”
It’s a mentality that his family has worked hard to instill in him. Just because he’s lived in a household with means, just because he’s been exposed to a lifestyle that few people in the world get to see did not mean that he was going to be handed anything. Everything that he gets, he works for, from clothes and cell phones to on-court hours spent with a trainer.
There were no free rides.
“Everybody around Cole has worked for what they have,” McCrary-McGuire said. “Not that you have that many black people that are trust fund kids anyway, but whatever success we have achieved, we earned.”
“My parents raised me right,” Cole said. “They don’t hand any thing to me in life. What they do hand to me is knowledge.”
What has made that process easier as Cole’s profile has risen over the last couple of years is that there is no jockeying for influence over him and his future. Every adult in Cole’s life -- be it his father, his mother, his high school coach, Munch -- has a role to play and a job to do, and they do it. When I reached out about writing this story, I was told to call McCrary-McGuire. When Cole is asked about his recruitment or the timeline for a decision on where he will go to college, he says to talk to his dad. And while his dad is an NBA veteran that is paid handsomely to be a basketball expert on television, he doesn’t interfere with the way that Munch coaches or the way that Cole was deployed at Archbishop Molloy this season.
The best basketball teams are the ones where every player on the roster knows and buys into their role, a fitting analogy for the support system that Cole has behind him.
“We really do have a village around Cole, around our family, who are level-headed, sensible people who value the basics: kindness, family and education,” McCrary-McGuire said. And it’s rubbed off on Cole, who is the oldest of five siblings. His 15-year old sister is his best friend. You’re more likely to see Leo, Cole’s five-year old brother from McCrary-McGuire’s second marriage, at one of his New York City workouts than not.
“When he’s with his younger siblings, he’s about their world,” Greg, who has two young children from his second marriage, said. “Video games, playing in the pool, if they want to go out and dribble, toss a football, do a puzzle. He genuinely enjoys their company, and that’s awesome to see.”
On Sunday, before he took his break to eat lunch, Cole spent 15 minutes talking with the 7th and 8th graders from the PSA Cardinal program. The group of six boys had spent the morning running water to the coaches sitting courtside or cleaning up the discarded bottles that are found in any gym where players are working out. He wanted to make sure they knew he cared, that he was there to help them if they needed it. He knows that his situation is not common, and he wants to help.
“Basically,” he said, “I just don’t want to be an asshole. That’s the only thing I’ve never wanted to do.”
Cole Anthony is a fascinating story in his own right.
He’s the son of a former NBA player and current broadcaster that has developed into one of the best high school basketball players in the country. He’s the Russell Westbrook of the EYBL, an uber-athletic 6-foot-3 guard that was named EYBL Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and EYBL MVP this past season. He’s a big-time scorer with a 43-inch vertical that rebounds the ball and competes on every possession. There’s a reason that every school in the country is going to try and recruit him, but it’s that recruitment that has taken the intrigue into New York City’s latest Point God to the next level.
Because, to date, Cole has provided next-to-nothing when it comes to hints about where he will be playing his college ball.
In June, he told reporters at a USA Basketball training camp that he will “obviously” be considering Kentucky. He told reporters at Peach Jam that he’s spoken to Bill Self a few times. As far as I can tell, that’s all that he’s said publicly about schools that are currently pursuing him.
“I don’t want to single anyone out,” he said.
The plan is to wait as long as possible, likely into the spring of his senior year, to ensure that the coach he ends up committing to will still be at the program when he enrolls. At one point in time, Anthony said, he was hung up on his recruitment, on where the offers were coming in from, what schools were recruiting him, what coaches watched him play, and he remembers his father telling him that it was pointless to worry that early in the process. The turnover in the college ranks is too much, a point, Cole says, that was exacerbated by the scandal that enveloped college basketball last season. Rick Pitino was fired by Louisville. There were doubts about whether Sean Miller would keep his job at Arizona throughout the season. Bill Self is under scrutiny at Kansas over the Jayhawks’ presence in the second round of charging documents the FBI released in April.
“There’s still a year left before I even have to go to college,” Cole said. “There’s a whole bunch that can happen.”
To figure out who is actively recruiting him, you have to read the tea leaves. Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Dana Altman (Oregon) were mainstays at his games at Peach Jam. Williams and an assistant coach were at The Westtown School on Sunday, as was Mike Brey (Notre Dame), Patrick Ewing (Georgetown) and John Beilein (Michigan), who were front row for Cole’s first workout of the day. St. John’s, Villanova and Pittsburgh all had assistant coaches at the event as well.
The most detail that Cole provided on a timeline to his recruitment was that he’s planning to sit down with his dad in mid-August to talk it through, but at this point, Anthony has yet to announce where he’s planning on playing his senior season in high school. He’ll be leaving Molloy for a prep school -- sources told NBC Sports that he’s expected to end up at Oak Hill Academy -- and the uncertainty has only heightened the interest.
“Right now, I don’t need the attention,” he said. “I get enough attention as it is, and honestly, it brings me more attention the less I say about it. People get more curious.”
“The limelight and all that comes with it has never been a priority or a concern for him,” Greg added. “He loves to play, he loves his friends, he loves to compete.”
“The thing about this game at the highest level, sometimes guys fall in love with the life. He’s in love with the game.”
Before Anthony was a high school basketball sensation, before there was any talk of the NBA or one-and-done or even college hoops, he was the gap-toothed, chubby-cheeked 11-year old star of ‘Little Ballers’, a documentary about AAU basketball on Nickelodean.
“I’m happiest in the world,” he said, his navy blue polo shirt buttoned all the way up, hugging a giraffe pillow pet, “when I’m playing basketball, and I want to go to the NBA and do it for the rest of my life.”
That was the first his mother, who produced the film, heard him say that.
“I had never had that conversation with him,” she said.
Right around that same time, after a little league baseball game, Cole told father he was done playing other sports. He just wanted to play basketball, which, in a way, Greg had always expected -- Cole is, after all, the son of an NBA player -- but the decision still surprised him. At the time, Cole just wasn’t all that good at the sport.
But that quickly changed.
Cole had always been intense and competitive. When he was young, he used to count the number of cheerios that were in his bowl to make sure his sister didn’t get more than him. When he was three, he lost his first race -- to a nine-year old -- and was inconsolable. He would get mad and aggressive playing youth sports. He didn’t understand the concept of a referee, or why that man with a whistle was able to call a foul and stop the game.
He just wanted to win, and that wasn’t always easy for his parents to deal with.
“Cole is this alpha male dude,” McCrary-McGuire said. “He was a lot. I joke about it now, but at the time it wasn’t all that funny.”
“I used to joke,” Greg said, “all those things that are a pain in the ass for us right now, they are really going to serve him well later in life.”
Basketball became the outlet, his competitiveness being all the motivation he needed.
“Cole is his own worst critic,” McCrary-McGuire said.
“It’s personal for him,” Greg said.
And as much as his parents would like to take credit for that, this is something that Cole was born with. They challenge him. When Cole says he wants to be the best, they ask him if he’s done everything in his power that day -- that week, that month, that year -- to reach that goal. When he says he wants to workout with Chris Brickley, trainer to many of the NBA’s biggest stars, he’s the one that has to make the call and schedule the appointment and get there on time.
But the truth is that it probably wouldn’t matter.
“You try to teach your kids good values and work ethic, but I think the individual has to take the ownership,” Greg said. “I give him a lot of credit. That’s who he is. If he has a goal, he really works towards it. Basketball is something he’s passionate about.”
“I think you’re always proud when your child has a passion for something and they have the opportunity to excel at it. So that part is really rewarding.”
But it also may have backfired.
Far as I can tell, the biggest point of contention between Greg and Cole has to do with a game that was played three or four years ago. It was the last time that the two played 1-on-1, and to hear Greg tell it, the game was tied at point when his hamstrings flared up and his Achilles’ were swollen and he had to leave the court.
“I was in pain,” he said, a smirk peaking out from under the black Nike hat pulled down over his face as he made sure to note that the last time the pair played, Cole did not win. “I could have finished, but I’m a big golfer, and I was thinking to myself, ‘If I get a significant injury, I’m off the course for a while.’”
He’s not buying it.
“I beat him,” he said. “The game was not tied. I was winning. It was a couple games we played, and those games I won. He copped out.”
Because he was hurt or because he knew he was about to lose?
“He knew. Did he say I lost?”
“Just that I didn’t win?”
“There you go.”
That game was four years ago.
And Cole will be talking about it for the next 40.