MISSOULA – It didn’t take long for Mack Anderson to get thrown into the fire.
Over a week ago in The Bahamas, Montana’s men’s basketball team found itself thin at post due to a nagging wrist injury starter Jamar Akoh has been dealing with all season. So head coach Travis DeCuire looked to his bench.
There he found the freshman Anderson.
With first-year players, redshirting seems to be the initial choice. But DeCuire said that wasn’t the case with Anderson and he thought the 6-foot-9 product from Bozeman High was ready to go right away.
“It’s always conversation with freshmen. We go into the year and plant the seed in case that’s something that’s decided, but they’re just as much a part of that decision as we are,” said DeCuire, whose team will play at Creighton Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. “So for him, it was more stay ready, stay ready, stay ready and we’ll see how things go.
“With Jamar’s injury, we were forced to play him. We never really were leaning towards the redshirt. As the season progressed, it was more let’s see what happens.”
Anderson got some experience in Montana’s scrimmage and exhibition in front of fans but in the three games in The Bahamas, he played 38 total minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing seven rebounds. He was 3 for 4 from the field with seven points in his first career game against Incarnate Word and played 16 minutes in the championship game against Georgia Southern.
DeCuire let Anderson know the day before Incarnate Word that he was going to suit him up in the tournament.
“I think he did well, especially for someone who wasn’t sure he was going to get in the game,” DeCuire said. “That was really based on how practice went the day before the Incarnate Word game. I got to the point where I was going to put my best guys on the floor regardless. We’re excited about where he’s at and what’s ahead of him.”
During his senior year at Bozeman, Anderson put it all together after spending the majority of his junior year as a role player. He averaged 16.6 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game and led the Hawks to their third consecutive Class AA title game.
Anderson recently met with 406mtsports.com to discuss his first official college minutes, the transition from high school basketball to college and what he’s learned so far at UM.
Q: What was the conversation like when Travis said The Bahamas would be your first official minutes in college?
A: We talked about it like a week before we left and he said that it was still kind of up in the air. Both of us kind of wanted me to just to have that year and get that experience and just learn. But once everything kind of unfolded, the day before that first game, he just said, ‘Let’s do it.’
Q: What was the biggest difference between that and playing in the exhibition and scrimmage?
A: Honestly, it felt better than the exhibition. It was kind of nice to get out there in that but I definitely felt a lot more comfortable in The Bahamas. It felt like I’d already played a game. And in that setting down there it kind of felt almost like a high school or AAU game just because it was a smaller gym and less people.
Q: What were your first minutes against Incarnate Word like?
A: A lot of adrenaline. Kind of just running around. I feel like I brought a lot of energy and that’s what I want to do the rest of the season and how ever I can help this team win. It was great to get out there.
Q: In the next two games, did it feel more comfortable than the first one?
A: It felt more natural I guess. Not as much adrenaline but still it feels different.
Q: Against Miami (Ohio) and Georgia Southern, what did you try to do differently as opposed to the first game against Incarnate Word?
A: I felt like I was a little bit more aggressive just in general. Going after rebounds and just stuff like that.
Q: Your first minutes came in a setting similar to the Big Sky Conference tournament with back-to-back-to-back games. Was that tough to adjust to?
A: In a way, yeah. It felt weird. I’d play 30-40 minutes in a high school game and be totally fine but I’d play 10 minutes in one of these games and you feel so sore and stuff like that. That was different, but it was cool to kind of get that tournament setting out of the way and get ready for that.
Q: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between high school and college?
A: Just the pace of the game. The speed is a lot different. Guys are just a lot more athletic. It’s better basketball all around. I’d say it’s probably more similar to an AAU game than a high school game.
Q: What aspect of the game did you transition to more smoothly?
A: Probably just working hard honestly. In high school I feel like I worked as hard as I could in every game and that’s something I can always do and just bring energy. I feel like I did that a lot in high school and that’s something I can do at this level right now. So I just focus on that and try to do the best I can.
Q: With the first couple of months of basketball gone by, what has been the biggest learning curve?
A: I feel like the biggest learning curve has definitely been defensively and playing defense in the post. It’s a lot different. Guys are bigger and have more skill. But it’s been good going against Kelby (Kramer) every day and Jamar and Ben (Carter). That’s definitely been the thing we’ve focused on the most with us. But other than that, just the transition in general and all of the different sets and stuff like that.
Q: This team has a lot of expectations. When you first got here, what was the atmosphere like?
A: When we got here this summer it was just the younger guys mostly with a couple of older guys. You could tell right when we got here that it was just like work, work, work. That carried over until now. It’s really competitive and I think that leads to success.
Q: Was it a tough transition?
A: It definitely is. I feel like I told myself I worked really hard in high school like outside of practice but here it’s just another level.
Q: What have your teammates done to help you transition to the college game?
A: They just are always helping you out. Giving you tips and advice and stuff. They do help out a lot. They’ll tell you to do something on defense. In individual workouts as well. Kelby and Jamar and Donaven (Dorsey) have helped me a lot. They’re always just kind of pitching in with little things they’ve learned over the years.
Q: What did it mean to you that your coaches felt you were ready to play and contribute right away?
A: It gives you a little bit of confidence to know that they believe in you. The confidence is the biggest part and knowing they’re behind you.
Q: Going forward in the nonconference schedule, you guys have teams like Creighton and Arizona, which draw a lot of fans. Looking forward to hitting the road and visiting these programs that draw large crowds?
A: It’s crazy. We play Creighton (Wednesday). I’ve been kind of not trying to think about the (size of the crowd) part of it. Just the actual basketball part of it. Because I know that no matter what type of game it is, even when we played here in the exhibition, it’s already different than anything I’ve played in before. So I have no idea what to expect but I’m going to try and not let it affect anything I do. It’s definitely exciting to play in front of that many people.
Wednesday game notes: Head coach Travis DeCuire said there is still no timetable on the return of senior post Jamar Akoh. Akoh played in the opener against Georgia State, scoring 22 points, but has since been sidelined with a wrist injury. ... Sophomore guard Timmy Falls has started in Akoh's place but did not play against Georgia Southern in The Bahamas. DeCuire declined to specify why Falls didn't play, saying it was something the team was addressing "in house" but they hope to have him back on the floor soon. Falls is not out for disciplinary reasons, according to an athletic department spokesman. DeCuire also declined to say whether or not Falls would play against Creighton. ... Montana and Creighton have each played Georgia State. The Grizzlies defeated the Panthers, 81-74, to open the season while the Bluejays also defeated the Panthers, winning 93-68 on Nov. 20. ... Creighton fell just outside of the top 25, coming in at No. 29 in the AP poll. Creighton is averaging 16,700 fans per game. ... The Bluejays have made the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.